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.
This chapter addresses the emergence of an abstract concept of time: time as disentangled from events. Stemming from late medieval to early modern times, this understanding of time has since been consolidated by the progress of industrialized production and the transformation of the concept of labour into abstract labour. Time calculated in working hours became a social relation measured by clock time. In the contemporary world those shifts operate across at least two dimensions and have had a profound social impact, experienced particularly through job insecurity. Firstly, humans tend to live their own relationship with time less and less as subjects with their own autonomy and, secondly, they do so more and more as objects of a transcendent and external time. The subject’s own time is increasingly vulnerable and powerless, while the time that socially regulates their existence is increasingly an imperturbable continuity outside of the order of events. This chapter aims to understand to what extent these two temporal aspects constitute and are incorporated in contemporary forms of labour precarization.
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.
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.