Note: Article published in Progress in Human Geography, Aug 2017 (DOI: 10.1177/0309132517725069).
This is a pre-publication version of the article; please see early online version at publisher website for final
Power, rhythm, and everyday life
This article examines rhythmanalysis within the context of Henri Lefebvre’s critique of
everyday life and identifies gaps in his framework from the vantage point of
intersectional feminist scholarship. Intersectional rhythmanalysis, I argue, provides a
framework through which to conceptualize the braiding together of rhythms, social
categories of difference, and power on non-essentialist bases. I interweave findings from
doctoral research on migrant farmworker rhythms in rural southern Ontario, Canada.
The paper argues that rhythms reflect unequal subject positions of migrants in Canada,
yet also represent lived uses of space and times which permit transgressions of racial,
gender, and class boundaries.
Rhythmanalysis; Intersectionality; Migration; Mobility; Feminist Geography; Unfree Labour;
Lefebvre’s Rhythmanalysis: Space, Time and Everyday Life (2004)
outlines an approach centered on the
study of daily rhythms as a gateway to Marxist sociology. According to Stuart Elden, in his introduction to
the book (2004, p.viii), the slim volume is the de facto fourth volume of the trilogy of volumes, Critique of
Everyday Life (2005, 2008, 2008a).
In them, Lefebvre conceptualizes rhythms as starting-points for
studying biological, social, and economic ebbs and flows that constitute everyday life under industrial
capitalism. Lefebvre was particularly curious about the ways the ways everyday rhythms continuously defy
I will refer to this volume as Rhythmanalysis from here.
I will refer to Critique of Everyday Life as CEL from here, with reference to all three volumes, unless otherwise
the impositions of linear and abstract space-time. Situated in postwar France, Lefebvre apprehended
everyday life, as well as work, as a source of alienation. Commuting, facilitated by mass production of and
middle-class access to cars, was a component part of these new postwar rhythms of everyday life. The
journey-to-work was emblematic of new experiences of ‘constrained time’, distinct from work and leisure,
but itself a new form of compulsion (to paraphrase Ross, 1995, p.20-21).
Everyday life had become
simultaneously fragmented and regimented, in his view, splitting space-time between work and home,
between leisure and work, and between what he called lived and constrained (or ‘compulsive’) time
(Lefebvre, 2005, p.53, 58-59). Everyday life was, like the shop floor, defined by monotony, order, and
alienation, itself a terrain of struggle between linear and cyclical time, between abstract and lived spaced,
and between alienation and utopia.
At various points in CEL, Lefebvre demonstrates that he was aware of French women’s specific experiences
of postwar life; women were entering the labour market—in particular, the service sector—while also
targeted as home-based, feminized consumers of domestic products (Ross, 1995). Despite this cognizance,
Lefebvre’s focus unassumingly dwells on white, settled, citizen men’s experience of postwar urban life.
Women’s experiences remain relevant only at the level of observation rather than systematic analysis; there
is no reference to men of colour and immigrant men’s subjectivities. I delve into these tensions and gaps
by building from Lefebvre’s rhythmanalysis using feminist intersectional thought (with a special focus on
geographers’ engagement with intersectional thinking), and examples from my own research. Intersectional
feminist research attends to the inseparable, co-constituted, and contingent processes underpinning social
categorization and social inequality, namely race, class and gender. In doing so I propose an approach called
intersectional rhythmanalysis. I argue that Lefebvre’s framework can be transposed from its original
empirical context (French postwar cities) to other sites, including beyond the ‘city’ proper, focusing on
Kristin Ross’ Fast Cars, Clean Bodies (1995) contextualizes and extends Lefebvre's critique of everyday life,
providing rich cultural-economic description and analysis of postwar modernization in France, the context in which
Lefebvre was thinking and writing.
rural roads as sites worthy of critical geographical analysis (see Buckley and Strauss, 2016). I therefore
argue that rhythmanalysis can be adapted and harnessed to encompass a broader range of subject positions
and spaces than those we encounter in Lefebvre’s work.
The broad purpose of the article is to assess how rhythmanalysis can be used to study intersectional power
relations (McDowell, 2008; Nash, 2008; Valentine, 2007) and how intersectional analysis can give greater
analytical edge to rhythmanalysis. Using my own research, I focus on migrant workers’ experiences of low-
wage, unfree labour migration, patterns to which geographers have become increasingly attentive (Buckley,
2014; Lewis et al., 2014; McDowell and Dyson, 2011; Strauss and McGrath, 2016). Using rhythmanalysis,
I argue for intersectional analyses of power differentials on a ‘more than metaphoric’ basis. I contextualize
the approach I propose here by discussing findings my dissertation research on migrant farmworker
(im)mobilities in southwestern Ontario, Canada. Building from Lefebvre’s original intervention, in
conversation with intersectionality theory, I suggest the following: Rhythms create quotidian disciplinary
conditions upon which exploitatative migration and mobilities regimes rest. Rhythms reflect and reproduce
intersectional power categories. Third, rhythms represent lived uses of space and times; as I will explore
below, migrant subjects negotiate and sometimes transgress racial, sexual, gender, class, and colonial
boundaries embedded in spatial and temporal orders.
Rhythmanalysis research has been harnessed in urban and cultural geography to consider the temporalities
and flows that characterize particular streets, squares, festivals and other spaces of contemporary
consumption (Borch, Hansen and Lange, 2015; Crang, 2001; Edensor, 2010; Jiron, 2010; Lagen et al.,
2015; Meyer, 2008; Schwanen, van Aalst, Brands & Timan, 2012; Simpson, 2012; Spinnney, 2010). There
is literature that explicitly ‘rhythmanalyses’ employment-related spatio-temporalities (Borch, Hansen and
Lange, 2015; Jiron, 2010) as well as difference and inequality (Jiron, 2010; Schwanen et al., 2012; Lager,
Van Hoven and Huigen, 2015; Spinney, 2010). Indeed, power differentials and temporality go hand-in-
hand, as time configures economic, political and social relationships (see Edensor and Holloway, 2008),
like migrant labour (Axelsson, Malmberg, & Zhang, 2017; Rajkumar et al., 2012; Robertson, 2014; Yea,
2017). These authors show how states, employers, and other actors use time to discipline and organize
migrant status and labour. Time enters into migrants’ lived experiences, access to space, and circulation,
identities and agency in the labour market, in the workplace, and in terms of access to services and
belonging. My article places rhythmanalysis in conversation with this small body of research, as well as
other subfields, in particular intersectional feminist scholarship on migration, mobilities, and labour. The
article connects longstanding interest in Lefebvre’s body of scholarship with pressing political questions
about labour migration and mobilities today.
The first half of the article is dedicated to unpacking Lefebvre’s approach to rhythmanalysis in relation to
intersectional research. Using field observations from my research (described in section IV), the second
half of the article examines daily and weekly patterns in which migrants negotiate limited ‘free time’ and
access to social space. I highlight several challenges and risks migrant farm workers face at the level of
these daily and weekly rhythms, and in doing so I harness rhythmanalysis to argue that migrant farm
workers’ unfreedom becomes routine and patterned in rhythms. Rhythms are therefore implicated in
making and reproducing unequal race, class and gender categories, while at the same time migrants’
rhythms reveal agentive uses of space and time.
II. Why rhythmanalysis?
Taken as a whole, Lefebvre’s work provides us with a useful framework centered on lived experiences of
capitalist space and time. Reading Rhythmanalysis in relation to CEL, Lefebvre shifts critical analysis from
‘the factory floor’—then the site par excellence for Marxist sociology and French communist critique—to
urban space and the realm of what he called everyday life. In CEL and Rhythmanalysis, Lefebvre posits
that the abstract time-space of industrial capitalism and postwar modernization manifest in “lived, daily,
almost imperceptible rhythms” (Ross, 1995, p.6). His framework is instructive in underscoring how
capitalism organizes and restructures lived experiences of space and time. Both capitalist space and linear
time shape daily and longer-term rhythms. The originality and richness of Lefebvre’s Rhythmanalysis lies
in apprehending the less perceptible and overlooked rhythms involved in lived experiences of urban space-
time. In an early Antipode article, Marshall Feldman ambitiously proclaimed that the journey-to-work had
the “more or less contradictory function as commodity, reproducer of labor power, social control
mechanism, and structurer of space” (Feldman, 1977, p.30). Curiously, Feldman notes that this travel is
part of the ‘work’ of consumption required for production, and therefore “essentially unpaid labour” (p.32).
Indeed, the journey-to-and-from-work has been the normative framework for understanding daily urban
rhythms. Our daily travel practices tacking between home and work, are not considered paid work, despite
the ubiquitous fact that all manner of travel is often required to get to-and-from paid employment.
Framing rhythms as an aspect of mobilities, Tim Cresswell (2010, p.23) notes: “Rhythms are composed of
repeated moments of movement and rest, or, alternatively, simply repeated movements within a particular
measure” (see also Edensor, 2010, p. 6). Cresswell points out that rhythms exude both spontaneous and
measured qualities, that there is a relationship between rhythms and everyday life, and that rhythms are
necessarily implicated in the structure and restructuring of social worlds. These distinctions are crucial,
because the lived, residual character of rhythms denotes rhythmanalysis’ particularity as an analytic
framework. Rhythmanalysis refers to the inalienable, lived, and interstitial aspects of social space and time
which systems-level analyses of mobility may neglect or overlook. This is not to suggest that mobility
research on systems is unimportant. My intent is rather to suggest that rhythmanalysis in Lefebvre’s
formulation focuses on the specificity of everyday patterning and routines of movement and rest existing at
once within but never entirely subsumed or determined by such systems.
Several additional dimensions to Lefebvre’s study of rhythms are worth identifying here. Rhythmanalysis
lends time a role alongside space, though it occupies a relatively marginal position in geographical research
more broadly (see May & Thrift, 2001). His analysis is also keenly relational and inter-scalar. Throughout
Rhythmanalysis, Lefebvre analytically scans rhythms across scale, remaining especially attentive to the
biological, lived body (“so neglected in philosophy that it kicks up a fuss”, p.20). While observing street
life from his window, his method starts from the observer’s own embodied sensory capacities (listening to
street-level rhythms) as means to understanding the social realities that rhythms disclose.
Lefebvre discerned three notions of rhythms—polyrhythmia, eurhythmia, and arrhythmia (2004, p.16).
Polyrhythmia refers to diverse, co-existing rhythms; eurhythmia to ensembles of rhythms so routine as to
have normalizing and naturalizing qualities; and finally, arrhythmia, connoting discordant rhythms that
break apart, and may create “a fatal disorder” (p.16). Eurhythms are, he highlights, the product of repetition
and dressage (training, to break-in) (2004, p.38-39). Lefebvre refers to “dominating-dominated rhythms”,
which he defines as “everyday or long-lasting [rhythms] (…), aiming for an effect that is beyond
themselves” (2004, p.18). The social times of revolution, he mentions, necessarily involve transformations
in rhythms: “for there to be change, a social group, a class, or a caste must intervene by imprinting a rhythm
on an era” (2004, p.14). Finally, rhythms are also place- and region-specific (2004, p.85-100). As others
have taken up, rhythms are imbricated in place- and nation-making processes even if such places may
themselves be mobile (Edensor and Holloway, 2008; Jirón, 2010).
Typically, studies on unfree labour migration examine more overtly coercive and vertical forms of
domination by state actors and employers. For the purposes of this article, rhythmanalysis is significant
because it brings into focus how unfree and exploitative labour migration regimes are constituted, re-
constituted, and disrupted in everyday patterns, routines, repetitions, and flows. Lefebvre’s distinctions
between different typologies of rhythms provides a useful entry point for understanding how intersectional
categories of social difference are enacted through daily rhythms in exploitative labour migration
III. Why intersectional rhythmanalysis?
Feminist scholarship and feminist social movements evolved considerably between the publication of CEL
(1947) and Rhythmanalysis (1992). Women and the domestic space in the postwar era were, for Lefebvre,
essential sites of investigation in his critique of everyday life. Kristin Ross (1995, p.58) notes that Lefebvre
“discovered” the concept of everyday life “when his wife walked into the apartment holding a box of
laundry soap and said, quite seriously, ‘This is an excellent product”. What was a moment of intellectual
breakthrough for Lefebvre was work for his wife. In his writing, Lefebvre addressed the domestic sphere,
new household consumer goods, women’s magazines, and even new labour market processes as women
entered the service sector (see Vol. 2 of CEL, 2008, p.78-87, as well as Ross, 1995, Chap. 2). But his
analysis fails to synthetically theorize gendered exploitation, spatialities and subjectivities, let alone discuss
how these combined with class and racial oppressions in the postwar era. Questions of sexual, gender, racial
and colonial exploitation in French everyday life have only been ‘read into’ Lefebvre’s scholarship, by
interlocutors like Kristin Ross. What Lefebvre characterizes as everyday life cannot justifiably be viewed
as a gender, class, or race neutral arena and nor can rhythms. There is also Lefebvre’s claim, with the
Situationists, that everyday life was subject to patterns of “interior colonization” by consumerist and state
bureaucratic capitalism (Merrifield, 2006, p.44; Ross, 1995, p.7-8, Ch.4). Here too, however, Lefebvre’s
analysis fails to attend to the specificity of French racism and colonialism (on this point see Kipfer, Saberi
and Wieditz, 2012, p.122).
My critique of Lefebvre in this regard is not new. Feminist geographers have interrogated Lefebvre’s own
oeuvre and Lefebvrian-inspired urban research. Examining Lefebvre’s The Production of Space, Heidi Nast
and Virginia Blum (1996) distinguish how his sociospatial concept of subjectivity remains heterosexist,
particularly it relates to gender schemas and heterosexual family norms. In blunter terms, others have noted:
“Lefebvre was as little a feminist or queer theorist of gender and sexuality as he was a theorist of colonial
history. In fact, Lefebvre had a basic tendency to describe women and men in essentialist terms or deploy
gendered or heteronormative imagery to describe the world” (Kipfer, Saberi and Wieditz, 2012, p.124).
Buckley and Strauss (2016) focus on the politics of knowledge production and “epistemological frictions”
latent in Lefebvre’s body of work; in much urban research, Lefebvre’s ideas have been used and applied in
ways which reproduce categorical and hegemonic notions of the urban, while systemically eliding and
minimizing feminist, queer, and postcolonial urban research. Still, most of these authors continue to
recognize the possibility that Lefebvre’s ideas hold for what might be loosely labelled intersectional
research, research that seeks to identify gender, sexuality, race, and colonial categories of inequality and
difference in order to undo them.
Beyond Lefebvre-specific critiques, diverse feminist scholarship has drawn attention to the intersectional
dimensions of rhythms qua forms of labour and everyday life. “Inequalities”, recent feminist scholarship
has argued, “influence not only which social groups engage in different types of employment-related
geographical mobility, but also its conditions (for example, who pays), rhythms (that is, work schedules),
and specific consequences” (Roseman, Barber and Neis, 2015, p.178). Daily work-life schedules, and the
flows, frictions, and stasis associated with the boundaries between leisure, work, and employment, provide
an empirical foothold for studying intersecting gender, race, and class positions (among other signifiers of
social difference), how power differentials are organized through rhythms, and how risk and vulnerability
are borne at the level of rhythms. Social differences and social oppressions are not static, but are made and
remade through spatio-temporal arrangements like rhythms. As early as the 1950’s feminist critics and
thinkers were identifying how the separation of productive and reproductive spheres was essential to the
gender exploitation of women's unpaid labour under capitalism, patterns which have continued as women
have entered the paid labour force (Dalla Costa & James, 1975; McDowell and Dyson, 2011). Others, like
Glenn (1992) and Collins (1990) interrogated and theorized labour from the vantage points of working-
class, racialized, and immigrant women who worked outside the home, who were multiple job holders. For
these workers, and racialized working-class men, their experiences of urban rhythms could be equated with
the monotonous ordering that Lefebvre discerned among male industrial workers (who were supported by
unpaid caregivers in the home, thus allowing male workers their ‘leisure time’) and also among middle-
and upper-class female homemakers.
Feminist geographical and urban research provided considerable evidence as to the gender-differentiated
character of the journey-to-work and the gendered configurations of women’s rhythms within cities (see
inter alia England, 1993; Massey, 1994; Pratt and Hanson, 1995; Wekerle, 1984). Their research showed
that women travelled shorter distances to work and less frequently so, particularly in female-dominated
occupations, and relied more heavily on public transit. Kim England stated that women’s journeys-to-work
reflect “an effort to juggle a multiplicity of overlapping and often contradictory roles and spatial factors”
(England, 1993, p.237). Women’s rhythms complicated clear-cut distinctions between work and home, and
between work and leisure—the order of everyday life par excellence that Lefebvre critiqued. Feminist
geographers identified how the normative qualities of the postwar North American city were masculinist
and classist (Hayden, 1980; Wekerle, 1984), serving to extract women’s labour on a subordinate and
segmented basis. Susan Hanson and Geraldine Pratt (1995, p.8) poignantly explain: “the spatial separation
between residential suburb and urban workplaces is integral, not incidental, to the conceptual and practical
separation of home and economy and to the difficulties that women experience in combining domestic and
wage labor”. Together, this research critiqued normative schemas of everyday life, both in terms of how
cities and the labour market were socially, temporally, and spatially organized as well as in terms of how
urban and labour scholarship itself normalized and naturalized these gendered structures and relationships.
The majority of this research, however, was not intersectional. White women’s experiences were construed
as women’s experience (see the introduction to Hanson and Pratt, 1995, as well as Johnson-Anumonwo,
1995; Parks, 2016, p.4; Burgos and Pulido, 1998). Intersectionality in feminist research refers to the
inextricable and inseparable relational character of social differences (of race, gender, sexuality, class,
dis/ability, etc.) in lived experience and on conceptual and legal grounds (Crenshaw, 1991; Nash, 2008;
Valentine, 2007). In a passage from Gender Trouble obliquely referencing intersectionality, Judith Butler
(1990, p.3) emphasizes the geographical and historical contingency of social categories of the subject. This
is, of course, central to Butler’s rejection of foundational and essential concepts of identity and subjectivity.
If one “is” a woman, that is surely not all one is; the term fails to be exhaustive, not
because of pregendered “person” transcends the specific paraphernalia of its gender,
but because gender is not always constituted coherently or consistently in different
historical contexts, and because gender intersects with racial, class, ethnic, sexual, and
regional modalities of discursively constituted identities. As a result it becomes
impossible to separate out ‘gender’ from the political and cultural intersections in
which it is invariably produced and maintained.”
Butler refers not only to intersecting social differences but also to “regional modalities”, and “political and
cultural intersections”. The historical and geographical contingencies of difference formation have been
central to geographers’ use of intersectionality theory (Gahman, 2017; Valentine, 2007).
Intersectionality has been roundly debated on conceptual and methodological grounds. As a spatial
metaphor, an “intersection” of social differences supposes independent a priori categories coming into
relation with one another and ‘adding’ to one another. Though most feminist research seeks to document
the processes that create social categories, Jennifer Nash argues that research on intersectionality replicates
the very same “cumulative” concept of identities research seeks to critique (2008, p.6; see also Brown,
2011, p.2; McDowell, 2008, p.492; Valentine, 2007). In geography proper, there are considerable
divergences in geographers’ theorizations and applications of intersectional analysis. Ruthie Gilmore
(2002, 2007) analyzes race, class, and gender differences in the context of the California prison system, but
outright avoids referring to intersectionality theory, opting instead for the metaphor “fatal couplings”—she
argues that power/difference couple to create racism, which she defines as exposure to premature death.
Gilmore’s provocation is one that asks both how categories are produced, and more so what categories do—
how they contain, segregate, maim, warehouse, and take life. In the remainder of the article, I will use the
term intersectionality. In recognition of Gilmore’s critique, however, I have devised the term ‘fatal
intersections’ to more fully capture the effects of intersectionality, which I explore in the discussion below.
In rhythmanalysis research specifically, there is limited engagement with intersectional questions and
critique of power and difference: How are rhythms organized, how are they experienced, and what power
relations do rhythms secure? How are differences configured, enacted and negotiated in everyday life?
What labor divisions and forms of exploitation are involved in everyday rhythms? In Schwanen et al.’s
research (2015) on the promotion of the nighttime economy in Dutch cities, they show how race and ethnic
exclusions against racial minorities articulate along spatial lines, while women’s participation varies on
temporal terms, over the course of the day/night. Lager, Van Hoven and Huigen (2016) examine
neighbourhoods and age differences among older adults, again in Holland. Neoliberal-informed discourses
of ageing, they argue, devalue the slower, static, and ‘non-working’ rhythms of older adults in the context
of ageing-in-place policy. Slowing down is associated with ‘feeling old’, and these negative connotations
attached to rhythm and age are relational, posited against the busy re/producing timings of younger adults
with children and paid work lives. They state (2016, p.1569):
[F]ocusing on the everyday reveals how the rhythms of both places and people are
ordered, and how these orderings may vary by social group and/or by age group.
Essentially, the rhythmic orderings of the everyday contribute to how people
experience daily life and how they value their own rhythms in relation to those of
Their research provokes several questions: What are the continuities and transformations in our everyday
and embodied rhythms? How are rhythms perceived as valuable or lacking value, or as normal or deviant?
Lager, Van Hoven and Huigen suggest that the reworking and intensification of rhythms of work and
reproduction are not unidirectional but rather manifest and materialize unevenly, in terms of how older
people’s slow, neighbourhood- and home-bound rhythms are seen as unproductive. In a quite different but
complementary vein of social theory, Lauren Berlant (2011) engages Lefebvre’s framework of everyday
life, but argues that risk, unpredictability, and constant negotiation define contemporary life, rather than the
ordered rhythms of Anglo-American middle-class postwar life. Consequently, Berlant considers “crisis
ordinaries” (2011, p. 8-9) more conceptually appropriate in capturing the lived vagaries that contemporary
social worlds signify and pose.
An intersectional rhythmanalysis can help to unpack and theorize unpredictable and risk-laden rhythms that
articulate along intersectional lines. Based on my own research, I build from the literature above to develop,
in what follows, intersectional rhythmanalysis. The sections below describe how rhythms play a role in
producing, reproducing, and disrupting constellations of interrelated race, gender, and class categories in
the context of migrant farm workers’ everyday lives. I explore (1) how migrant farm workers are exposed
to disproportionate risks as bicyclists on rural roads, (2) how migrants negotiate and transgress spatio-
temporal boundaries in creating social spaces in rural towns, and (3) finally, how intersectional differences
between migrant farm workers are produced within rhythmic practices.
IV. Research note
This article is based on a sub-set of research findings from my dissertation, which focused on migrants’
travel practices and experiences in rural Ontario, namely how migrants’ travel practices were restricted and
enabled. I conducted the study over two growing seasons, collecting qualitative data through interviews,
surveys, and participant observation. In this article specifically, I draw from field notes compiled over the
course of the project, based on approximately four hundred hours of time spent as a volunteer with local
migrant advocates and in migrant social spaces, mainly weekends and evenings in various areas in
southwestern Ontario. I recorded notes about all aspects of the research process, including how I met,
interacted with and recruited participants, the textures and atmospheres of the places where I was doing the
research, how interviews proceeded, and so forth. Alongside observation, I interviewed and surveyed
migrant farmworkers from Mexico, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, as well as agricultural employers,
and local government officials and migrant advocates. In all, there were seventy participants in the project.
In this article I do not draw directly from interviews or surveys, yet my analysis and claims are based on a
much broader set of qualitative sources and analytical context. The identities of research participants are
confidential and pseudonyms are used; some identifying details have been changed to ensure participant
identities remain confidential.
V. Fatal intersections
On a Tuesday evening in September 2005, a man driving toward Delhi, Ontario, Canada
hit three bicyclists,
killing two of them, William Bell and Desmond McNeil, and seriously injuring a third man, Frederick
Smith. It was dusk and a clear night. The driver, Charles Morris, a Canadian-born Caucasian, was
irregularly employed as a farmworker in this rural area. Bell, McNeil and Smith were men from Jamaica.
Like Morris they were farmworkers but were employed as seasonal guestworkers on a nearby vegetable
I conducted interviews with Spanish-speaking participants in Spanish.
Delhi is a small municipality in southwestern Ontario, Canada, pronounced ‘del-hi’, not ‘del-ee’.
farm through Canada’s Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP). That September evening, they had
been on their way to use a payphone after work.
Eventually, Morris was charged and convicted for dangerous driving, but received a conditional sentence,
involving house arrest and other mobility restrictions over a two-year period. He could leave his home only
to travel to and from work. To shop and run basic errands, Morris was permitted to go out for three hours
per week, and he was prohibited from driving for ten years. In his sentencing, the judge noted that Canadian
citizens rely on cars as their primary means of transportation, with no public transit in rural areas. The
sentence would make getting to work challenging for Morris. Unable to retain his job, Morris eventually
left rural Ontario to work in heavy machinery in western Canada, just like thousands of others who travel
to find work in Canada’s resource extractive industries, which relies heavily on international and internal
labour migrants. Restrictions imposed on Morris’ mobility for the length of his sentence are somewhat akin
to the everyday (im)mobility that farmworkers like Bell, Smith, McNeil and roughly 30,000 others
experience within the context of Canada’s SAWP (Government of Canada, 2016).
Morris’ sentence forced
him to experience to a limited degree the conditions of institutionalized unfreedom (Perry, 2012; Sharma,
2006; Strauss and McGrath, 2016) his victims lived in their everyday lives and workplaces. The SAWP is
Canada’s longest-standing low-wage guestworker program, a sub-stream of Canada’s Temporary Foreign
Worker Program (TFWP). Under the SAWP, migrants from Mexico and the English-speaking Caribbean
are authorized to work on Canadian farms for up to eight months a year, but lack access to permanent status
in Canada. Their legal status is thus best characterized as “permanently temporary” (Rajkumar et al., 2012).
Regulating migrants as subordinate in the labour market and as essential but non-citizen others within the
Canada rests upon multiple exclusions and restrictions, resulting in a highly docile, flexible farm workforce
(Basok, Bélanger, & Rivas, 2013; Preibisch, 2010; Sharma, 2006).Migrant farmworkers in the SAWP enter
The details from this account are based on news reporting (see Legall, 2005a, 2005b, 2007 & 2008; Pearce, 2012).
According to government statistics, in 2014 there were 36,718 labour permits issued to Canadian farms for annual
SAWP entrants, of which 22,639 were issued to Ontario farms specifically (Government of Canada, 2016).
Canada seasonally under closed work permits, restricting them to work for one specific employer.
Employers are contractually obligated to provide migrants with housing, usually on-farm. Migrants are
given short periods of time off-farm each week, to shop on Friday evenings between roughly 6pm and 9pm,
and are often required to inform their employers as to their whereabouts during their free time. Most migrant
farmworkers in Ontario lack access to cars and are deeply rely on their employers and on bikes to get
around. Migrants’ ‘free time’ and access to social space is carefully monitored and controlled by employers
and state officials charged with managing migrant labour at daily levels. This control and monitoring is
essential to securing and extracting value from migrants’ labour.
First, rhythms buttress and undergird the systems of spatial and social control described above. As Lefebvre
emphases, rhythms imply an element of repetition, involving varying levels of measure, obligation, and
calculation (2004, p. 8). The SAWP is composed of multiple inter-scalar and inter-connected rhythms. The
latter include the transnational state-managed migration in relation to Canadian agricultural cycles.
Migrants cannot remain in Canada for more than eight months and must return to their countries of origin
by December 15th of each year. Deportation is used as a disciplinary tool to ensure worker compliance
(Basok, Bélanger and Rivas, 2013). Thus citizenship exclusions and the demands of Canadian agriculture
are key factors that drive seasonal migratory rhythms. At weekly and daily levels, migrants work long hours
and face strict restrictions around their free time and access to non-work social space. I consider the daily
and local patterning of migrant rhythms important facets of the internal and often intimate border logics of
labour migration management. In other contexts, agricultural migration regimes are managed quite
differently from the SAWP (see Simpson, 2011; Gertel and Sippel, 2014). Despite these distinctions, the
“queer time” (Oswin, 2012) and spatialities of migrants’ everyday lives (their blurred work/live spaces,
experiences of confinement and detention, etc.) are well-documented by feminist geographers and other
migration scholars (Buckley, 2014; Conlon, 2011; Constable, 2009; Robertson, 2014; Seo & Skelton, 2016;
Yeoh & Huang, 2010). The ubiquity of overt constraints around where and how migrant workers dispose
of their ‘free time’ signals the fundamental role such constraints play in the regulation of “hyper-precarious”
living and conditions for migrants (Lewis et al., 2014). While Lefebvre referred to interior colonization to
explain the effects of modernization and bureaucratic capitalism on French postwar life, the SAWP
represents a neo-colonial labour migration regime. To say that everyday life is colonized is not simply a
metaphor in the case of the SAWP, but a direct reference to its patent coloniality.
Second, I argue that the road collision between Morris and the bicyclists was a fatal intersection between
unequally situated subjects, materially rather than metaphorically. What intersected in this context was not
social differences per se, but assemblages of human and non-human bodies (i.e., machines) with unequal
capacities to move, work, reside, and access services. My use of the term “fatal intersection” distinguishes
how energy, space, and time interlace with power to produce violent outcomes—in Lefebvre’s terms, an
arrhythmic event. Arrhythmic perhaps, and yet also itself normalized. Eurythmic because the ecological
and physical violence of auto-dependency is deeply ordinary (Spinnney, 2010), as are the risks that
migrants’ face in Canada’s SAWP. This fatal intersection is not anomalous; it is akin to Ruth Gilmore’s
(2002) argument that power and difference produce “fatal couplings” for racialized subjects. Indeed,
holding Morris individually culpable for these violent events in the legal proceedings hid the broader
spatial, temporal and legal forces that generated these violent events. Researchers have documented how
migrants in the SAWP face significant occupational health and safety hazards related to the exploitative
nature of the program (Preibisch & Hennebry, 2011). The spatio-temporalities of bicycling fatalities suggest
that occupational hazards do not solely occur at the site of the workplace proper, but bleed into non-work
spaces—rural roads. This brings into play a broader set of actors, while also demonstrating how migrant
farmworkers’ insecurity and disposability is braided into the social and spatial fabrics of daily life (Berlant
2011; Jiron, 2010).
If rhythms help configure and are symptomatic of oppression and labour exploitation, and if rhythms
predispose migrants to greater violence in workplaces and other spaces like rural roads, it is clear that
rhythms serve and reinforce extant power relations—within the workplace, within the nation, and in
relationships between North and South.
VI. Negotiating rhythms
If rhythms imply imposed orders as well as lived cycles, according to Lefebvre (2004, p. 8, Ch. 4), how
might migrants’ enactment of everyday rhythms confound oppressive logics of migration and work
regimes? This section explores how migrants’ rhythms reshape social spaces and create room where
relationships beyond their workplaces, ones to which they are otherwise relatively confined. Migrants
negotiate and transgress the strict boundaries described in the passage above. Migrants’ arrival in rural
communities creates encounters between drivers and migrants on rural roads during warmer months of the
year. Rural roads are marked by different ensembles of rhythms from the ones Lefebvre observed from his
Paris apartment window. These rhythms shape rural places (Conlon, 2010; Jirón, 2010; Massey, 1994, p.
146-156) as seasons unfold, dynamically related to the transnational circulation of agricultural labour
migration and the daily constraints around migrants’ access to and use of space and time. Rural places,
then, are shaped by coexisting, multiple, polyrhythmic assemblages.
On warm summer evenings, the town of Delhi feels almost lively.
Otherwise, it is sleepy place. On those
nights, if you know where to look, you can find somewhere to have a drink, and even dance. There is a bar
in a local motel, where for CAD $10 you can get plate of rice and peas with jerk chicken, prepared by a
Canadian-Jamaican couple who run the motel and spin reggae while patrons shoot pool and play dominoes.
At a Polish Veterans’ Legion you can head to the basement with a bar and dance floor. Some nights they
spin rancheras and cumbias, other times country music, and at other points, dancehall and reggae. These
spaces flourish because of the seasonal influx of migrant farmworkers from Mexico, Jamaica, Trinidad &
Tobago and Barbados. Most migrants are men, at least around Delhi. Farms clustered around Delhi allow
migrants to bike to-and-from the town either daily or weekly, depending on distance, and how much energy
migrants have left after very full, difficult days of work. In addition to food, drink, and music, there are also
Christian sidewalk proselytizers who gather in an attempt to convert the men who converge on the town.
This section is based on my own observations of Delhi while I compiled into field notes.
There is an evening medical clinic run by volunteers offering services for migrants who cannot attend
regular 9-5 clinic hours.
The mise en scène sketched above draws attention to qualitative, lived experiences of so-called ‘free’ time
and space, or leisure. While critics of the SAWP justifiably label it is as an unfree labour regime, in the
SAWP time and space are arguably unfree, too. Lefebvre was particularly critical of the notion of “free
time” and leisure as new social needs, arguing that there is “alienation in leisure just as in work” (2005,
p.39), much as Marx had highlighted how free waged labour was not truly ‘free’. Lefebvre notes, “leisure
activities are also produced (and productive), although they are proclaimed free and even ‘free time’” (2004,
p.32, emphasis in original). In desiring breaks from waged work through leisure, rhythms represent concrete
critiques of alienation (2005, p.29). Claire Revol (2015), a leading French Lefebvre philosopher, argues
that rhythmanalysis ultimately refers to that which critiques everyday life in practice—what she calls an
‘urban poetics’ of lived space-time that refuses abstraction. Migrants’ use of time at differing intervals
reshape rural spaces.
These agentive forms and uses of time and space are discernible among migrants within the SAWP and
other contexts. The transnational social spaces that migrants’ local rhythms generate reveal how migrants’
lives in Canada’s SAWP are not solely marked by control, segregation and stasis. Access to a bike or an
employer or friend’s vehicle is precisely what makes public space in Delhi and elsewhere accessible for
workers. Feminist scholars, among them geographers, have documented how migrants use and shape social
spaces, spaces that may be based around their free time. Sometimes these spaces engender explicitly
political spaces for advocacy (Constable, 2009) and other times involve the production of ethnically specific
spaces of identity formation, comradeship, and sociality (Rogaly, 2009; Seo & Skelton, 2015; Simpson,
2011), what Cravey (2003) calls transnational spaces of social reproduction. By openly or covertly defying
constraints around their use of time and accessing social spaces outside of agricultural workplaces, workers
in the SAWP disrupt and transgress geographies of racial segregation and confinement, reshaping local
social spaces to their own ends.
VII. Differentiated rhythms
One day in mid-summer as I was in the midst of my fieldwork, I received a call from a friend who I will
call Lucho. I had only met Lucho a few Sundays earlier. It became immediately clear that Lucho is well-
connected, being actively involved in an informal network between migrant farmworkers in another region
(south Essex County). He organizes social events, like dinners hosted in bunkhouses, but also comes to the
aid of workers facing emergencies like illness. An essential part of Lucho’s week is attending Spanish mass.
Mass services, held on Sunday evenings in a nearby Catholic church, are one of the channels through which
migrants connect with one another. Lucho serves as a connector in part by having access to a van that his
employer lends him. When Lucho called me, he asked for a favour—could I drive someone to mass on his
behalf? I said I could. He gave me contact and pick-up details.
I picked up several migrant women from the farm where they had just arrived to Canada to pack vegetables.
The reason Lucho had connected us was because the women were concerned about being seen by male co-
workers, supervisor, and/or boss getting into a vehicle with an unknown man. There are relatively few
women who participate in the SAWP; studies have shown, however, that these women face more severe
spatial restrictions and confinement to their workplaces and dormitories than their male counterparts
(Preibisch and Encalada Grez, 2010, p. 308). My passengers proceeded to tell me how their time on the
packing line was highly surveilled by male counterparts. Just as they were monitored in the pack barn,
sorting and bundling vegetables, their women-only dormitory—where they cooked, slept and rested—was
closely supervised too. Over the next months, through these trips, I witnessed as these women were
consumed by efforts to negotiate and make livable what was a very difficult and exploitative work-live
arrangement. What they faced as migrant women was so different from Lucho, who had greater autonomy
over his free time and access to a vehicle. While I knew a limited number of migrant men who had access
to farm vehicles for their own use, I have never encountered a migrant woman on a Canadian farm who
Gender and sexual exploitation enters into regulating migrant men and migrant women’s access and use of
space and time, albeit on different terms. Migrant men’s rhythms stand out from the normalized, routine
rhythms of white rural Canadian everyday life; the latter includes car ownership, heteronormative families,
permanent settlement, participation in paid work from 9-5, and having naturalized roots in rural
communities. These normative patterns are interlaid to produce what Lefebvre called eurhythmic
arrangements. Migrants’ position in rural Canadian contexts is out-of-place in relation to these normative
rhythms of everyday life, in a number of different ways. They move back-and-forth between Mexico and
Canada on a seasonal basis and do not have access to Canadian permanent citizenship, they do not have
access to cars, they are racialized, and they live in single-sex dormitories with fellow male migrants adjacent
to their workplaces, with limited autonomy over their private space and leisure time.
Migrant men’s experiences overlap with but remain distinct from migrant women, who face strict feminized
constraints from employers and male migrant counterparts. Thus, gender and sexual regulation configures
migrant men and migrant women’s relationships to one another; migrant women are not only monitored by
men but can be dependent them outside of work in order to circulate and gain access to services and social
spaces like church or simply going out for coffee. Migrant women are much less visible in public spaces
relative to migrant men. Indeed migrant spaces are coded as masculine. It should be noted that I too, as a
white Canadian woman with access to a car, entered differentially into these relationships, both vis-à-vis
Lucho and my female passengers. Their rhythms of daily and weekly travel (to church, to shop, to grab a
beer or coffee, to meet friends) represent residual and often unexamined questions of how and whether
migrant men and women in the SAWP can move, where they can go, and who they encounter. This example
indicates how repetitive uses of space, time and energy—what Lefebvre conceptualized as rhythms—are
deeply unequal, but also relational.
Such rhythms are eurhythmic in the sense that world historical differences like gender, race, and citizenship
normalize in everyday rhythms. However, it is challenging to draw any further from Lefebvre on this point
because Lefebvre largely essentialised gender differences between men and women (see Blum and Nast,
1996) and failed to attend to intersectional relationships cross-cutting gender and other social differences,
like citizenship, race, ethnicity or class. A spatial, intersectional and anti-essentialist concept of difference,
inequality and rhythms is required here (Hanson and Pratt, 1995; Massey, 1994; Roseman, Barber and Neis,
2015). In this context, power differentials are enacted between migrant farm workers (here, men and
women) as well as between differently situated women (migrant women and myself as a Canadian woman).
Indeed, a priori power differentials between Lucho, migrant women, and myself (in this instance) manifest
through our relative freedom and lack of freedom to dispose of our “free time” and to circulate within rural
communities, wider regions, and across international borders.
In this article, I specifically argued for reading, theorizing, and applying rhythmanalysis within the context
of the full set of volumes that constitute Lefebvre’s Critique of everyday life. It was through the concept of
everyday life that Lefebvre drew attention to transformations in lived space and time under postwar
capitalism, and in particular, observed transformations in ‘free time’, including leisure and private space.
Rhythmanalysis fundamentally represents, for Lefebvre, a critique of everyday life (Revol, 2015). Despite
Lefebvre’s rich theoretical legacy for studying everyday rhythms, his suggestive commentary on everyday
life, “free time”, and postwar domestication leave out a great deal. Feminist, postcolonial and anti-racist
interventions have identified Lefebvre’s essentialist treatment of gender difference and outright elision of
colonial, racial and sexual differences in his work (Blum and Nast, 1996; Buckley and Strauss, 2017; Kipfer,
Saberi and Wieditz, 2012). With recent exceptions (Lager, Van Hoven and Huigen, 2016; Schwanen et al.,
2012), the majority of rhythmanalysis research does not address intersectional inequalities, exploitation and
difference. Using qualitative research with migrant farm workers in southern Ontario, Canada, the article
shows how rhythmanalysis provides a framework through which to conceptualize rhythms, social
difference, and power on non-essentialist bases. I argue that rhythmanalysis emphasizes the processual and
repetitive patterns and routines within which social categories of difference are both constituted and
Control over rhythms is integral to reproducing labour migration regimes and the social differences upon
which migration regimes rest. Just as Lefebvre argued that rhythms are imprinted on eras and regions, my
argument here is that migration regimes are imprinted with rhythms as well. The SAWP tightly organizes
and manages migrants’ daily, weekly, and seasonal rhythms. Much like the unfree labour arrangements in
which they are situated, migrants’ “free time” is subject to restrictions and migrants have limited and uneven
access to social spaces outside of work. There is a racial, colonial, gender, and sexual politics to rhythms
and the differential and deeply illiberal interventions operating at the level of rhythms. These controls over
migrants’ time and space predispose migrants to well-known and less predictable risks and vulnerabilities,
such as in the case of bicycling fatalities; together these generate racial forms of risk (Gilmore, 2002) in
migrants’ everyday lives. I use the term “fatal intersections” in concrete rather than metaphoric terms to
argue that difference, power, and rhythms intersect materially as well as discursively. Migrants travel on
rural roads by bike, often at night, during the warmer period of the year when they are working in Canada.
As bicyclists, migrant farmworkers’ rhythms of local travel exist in the shadows of the wider community;
migrants circulate in spaces, times, and through modes that are differentiated by the normalized rhythms of
rural Canada. Passing encounters (Wilson, 2011) between migrants and the driving public intermittently
generate violent and tragic outcomes. My emphasis here is on the systemic character of violence in routine
practices in the SAWP, reproducing embodied risks for migrants as racialized, poor and unfree subjects in
Canadian communities. Placing more attention on intersectional forms of violence in rhythmanalysis
research is therefore crucial.
Nonetheless, rhythms create opportunities for counter-rhythms, place-making and disruption. My research
also shows how migrants negotiate the spatio-temporal constraints placed around them on Canadian farms.
Building from critical and feminist migration research (Constable, 2009; Cravey, 2003; Rogaly, 2009;
Silvey, 2004), I describe how, while migrants’ use of time and space is restricted, migrants create
relationships with each other and appropriate social spaces. Seasonal agricultural labour flows leave traces
in relatively quiet rural places, where migrants congregate during their limited non-working hours. Rhythms
shape the visibility and invisibility of migrants in public space and their ability to claim space. Rhythms are
therefore transgressive rather than overtly political, as migrants breach boundaries.
Other lines of investigation could enrich further analytical uses of intersectional rhythmanalysis. These
include issues of power, embodiment and the layering of rhythmic patterns. Lefebvre was emphatic that
rhythmanalysis start from the of the biological body. Consequently, exploring issues of embodiment and
rhythms—without essentializing and naturalizing the body—is an avenue for deepening intersectional
rhythmanalysis. There are also significant outstanding questions on how to conceptualize power in
rhythmanalysis, particularly the verticality of power and its relationship to everyday life. In terms of power
‘from below’, there are other forms of migrant counter-rhythms and disruption—interruptions that occur
when workers quit mid-season, when they are threatened with removal, or when a migrant worker decides
not to return to Canada for another season. Further research should explore interrelated transnational as
well localized ‘lines of flight’, escape and counter-rhythms (as well state and industry responses to these
disruptions) in labour migration programs. In this vein, there is further potential to consider how migrant
workers’ spatio-temporal rhythms relate to labour agency, identity, and negotiation in labour migration
processes (Axelsson, Malmberg and Zhang, 2017; Coe, 2013; Datta et al., 2007; Rogaly, 2009).
Rhythms are undoubtedly deeply political and social phenomena. Management through algorithms, for
example, is having profound effects on both consumers and producers—in logistics and transportation, in
particular. These intimate and predatory forms of exploitation are introducing calculation through rhythms
into new arenas of everyday life. The question is therefore how to bridge—analytically and politically—
the relationship between newer and older (re)configurations of rhythm, power, and everyday life. A
specifically intersectional rhythmanalysis can be a useful tool for studying and confronting new techniques
for governing everyday life while remaining attentive to continuities in race, gender, class, and other
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