The machinations of managing contingency

I’ll start with the voices of other people…. Here, somebody is recalling a recent visit to a local restaurant:
…And yes, only last week we were somewhere local, a newish Arabian is it, I’m not sure, no, Moroccan in Charminster, not sure if you know it. I was reading the menu and just had no idea really, I liked so much of it, and to be honest, didn’t have a clue what some of it was, Marcus would know, he knows what I like food-wise. And our two friends had already decided and the waiter was hanging around, and I was saying to Marcus, oh I just don’t know, what do you think, and he said ‘Well I know you like that and we can’t really make that at home…it’s hard to make get the ingredients and all that’, so in the end that helped and that decided for me what I’d go for. He’s good at that, I like that Marcus can always come up with a reason for me to decide.
And here, struggling to ‘handle’ the purchase of her and her partner’s first car:
…. so this friend, well neighbour really, was very helpful, he seems to know quite a lot about them…He gave us the nudge we needed and told us that this car was good value for what was being asked. And it did fit on the drive as you can see, did you notice it?…And we only wanted a small run-around really, for when we do the big shop, and as our neighbour, the friend said, its economical, and given we are both new drivers we want a small easy-to-drive thing. So this neighbour was an expert really, and I appreciate that – but to be honest, in the end it was all a bit of a rush because we had planned to go and see it again and maybe have a run round in it, but this friendly neighbour kind of did all the talking for us, and we got caught up in it once it all got into motion, as it were. So that evening, by the time we’d had tea, it was like the deal was all done and we had to just get a cheque from the building society the next day. Which yes, we did, and so now we have our little car.
Or is it really the ‘neighbour/friends’ car? Another voice, and a chance encounter with a salesman, in a showroom where she had only gone to leave her car for servicing,……
……I just felt committed by then and it was such a nice drive, air-conditioning and the roof as standard. Once we’re in the car I was just thinking ok, so we have to buy this now, how do I get Pete to agree without all the hassle…. I had to admire the charm of the lad, he knows what he’s doing. So without wanting one I have a nice new car on the drive now, and I’m quite looking forward to driving through the forest when I see my sister at the weekend.
Choice is considered a part of life that we simply have to countenance. Framed at times as imposition, as a burden., as something to deal with. Thus often responded by carefully constructing contexts that are, in effect, attempts to let, to allow the machinations of contingency to flow…. Of course, it is only through our choice practices that such strategies attempts can be enacted, and the dripping irony of this situation should be, and often is recognised. Another voice reflecting forward to imminent retirement …
Of course I’m really not sure what I will do when I leave and have to fill my days with nobody telling me how to, so what to do will be left to me….I’m sure something will come up though……But yes, if it doesn’t, well I suppose I’m quite used to getting….or I should say putting myself where I don’t really have to make big decisions…
My initial analysis of participant ‘data’ suggests some clear strategies are employed to manage, to cope with and to accept contingency: Managing by taking control. Bull (2000) refers to “efforts to negate the perceived contingency that lies in wait for them” (p153). Managing by compartmentalising certain life spheres into those that matter and those that don’t. In order to have a sense of control we also have to sense its antithesis. Managing by embracing it – To ‘go with the flow’ and, in effect, let the conditions of the context decide and to develop and maintain routines where much of the contingency faced becomes ‘home-made’, self-created by the very routines established. So what? Consumer behaviour and culture tends to leave contingency as background or at best part of that muddled ‘assemblage of the hinterland’ in John Law’s 2004 words in After Method: Mess in social science research. It does not chine well with the neoliberal notion of the enterprising self. What of those who might share the sentiment expressed in ‘Outline’ by Rachel Cusk……
I have come to believe more and more in the virtues of passivity….in living a life as unmarked by self-will as possible…..


Faculty of Media & Communication, Bournemouth University