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  • Author or Editor: Joseph Choonara x
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This chapter opens by discussing the diverse, often mutually unintelligible, conceptions of ‘precarity’ in recent academic literature. It is argued that ‘precarious employment’ offers a more meaningful object of investigation in exploring changes to employment since the beginning of the neoliberal period. Data are presented showing the evolution of temporary work, short-tenure work and labour protections across five major OECD countries. The results do not reveal a simplistic, universal burgeoning of precarious employment but rather complex patterns that must be explained, in each specific context, through an appeal to a theory of labour markets. Such a theory, drawing on Marxist political economy, is proposed. Labour markets must be understood through different levels of abstraction, beginning with the capital–labour relation and developing through successive, more concrete, layers to reconstruct and explain the trends identified.

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Critical Perspectives on Work, Subjectivities and Struggles

The words ‘precarity’ and ‘precariousness’ are widely used when discussing work, social conditions and experiences. However, there is no consensus on their meaning or how best to use them to explore social changes.

This book shows how scholars have mapped out these notions, offering substantive analyses of issues such as the relationships between precariousness, debt, migration, health and workers’ mobilisations, and how these relationships have changed in the context of COVID-19.

Bringing together an international group of authors from diverse fields, this book offers a distinctive critical perspective on the processes of precarisation, focusing in particular on the European context.

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This afterword draws together the content of the book by highlighting the relevance of studies of precarity in exploring contemporary social phenomena. It emphasizes the role of the theoretical approaches suggested in the book in understanding changes that have occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic. These include the transfer of risks to individuals, which are inherent in the public health response to the pandemic; extensive interventions of states into labour markets; claims of a withdrawal of workers from employment; the growing profile of digital technologies in organizing work; and the attempt by the precarious to establish new forms of agency and subjectivity.

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This chapter introduces the book collection. It outlines the manner in which ‘precarity’ and ‘precariousness’ have emerged as key terms in contemporary discussions of work, class, social conditions and subjectivities. Various prominent landmarks in discussions of these themes are identified, including contributions by Pierre Boudieu and Judith Butler, the broad sociology of work literature, debates around Guy Standing’s notion of a ‘precariat’ class, and views focused on novel forms of subjectivities. The book introduced by this chapter is based upon a series of critical interventions, without artificially attempting to shoehorn them into a common theoretical framework.

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