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Session Overview
RN06_02b_H: Damaged lives. Precarious Work
Wednesday, 30/Aug/2017:
4:00pm - 5:30pm

Session Chair: Yuliya Yurchenko, University of Greenwich
Location: HB.1.13
HAROKOPIO University 70 El. Venizelou Street 17671 Athens, Greece Building: B, Level: 1.

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Avenues of resistance to capitalism: precarisation and collective action among artist-workers

Joana Soares Marques

University of Sao Paulo (USP), Brazil

This paper investigates forms of resistance to the precarisation and commodification of work in contemporary capitalism, through the analysis of alternative forms of social and production organization that are embodied by collectives of artist-workers in Brazil and Portugal, notably the theatre collectives. The notion of artist-worker relates to those who are self-conscious of their condition as workers and act politically and aesthetically from that condition. Framed by a concept of Emancipatory Social Science, the paper examines the forms of self-organization and the dynamics of collective action, challenging the processes of precarisation that are particularly pressing within artistic labour. It draws on the author’s PhD research that was based on the comparative study of Portuguese and Brazilian realities, through a methodological strategy that integrated the analysis of historical, statistical and documentary sources, conducting a survey, interviews, participant observation and the deepening of two empirical studies.

The research has shown that artists are a group of workers highly precarious that, although underrepresented in traditional forms of labour self-representation (parties and unions), express a certain orientation towards collective values, allowing to consider this “artistic precariat” not only in terms of exploitation, but also from its emancipatory potential, contributing to the emergence of innovative and intersectional forms of collective action and solidarity between different precarious groups (artists, students, factory workers, illegal migrants, women, ethnic minorities).

Translating precarity

Gabriela Julio Medel

University of Bristol, United Kingdom

The concept of precarity has gained attention in the last decades in the literature of labour studies, but it is, by no means, a new concept and it exceeds the field. Looking on the recent political events in different parts of the world, it seems timely to review the ideas of precarity and its links to disaffection, and to do so from the space of work, where power and authority relations are lived more directly.

The presentation will cover the work of the first year of my PhD research project that aims to explore disaffection towards the workplace and political institutions among workers with precarious employment conditions in two Latin American countries, Chile and Argentina.

The presentation will review the concept of precarity, from its origins in the French literature to its expansion to European and Latin American countries with a particular emphasis on Chile and Argentina. It will discuss the polysemy of the concept and the different scholarly approaches on the issue, from authors that have a restricted view, focusing on job precarity, to those who understand precarity as an ontological condition. Likewise, the critical positions regarding the concept will be considered. Finally, the presentation will assess the pertinence of the precarity concept to the study of Chile and Argentina, two Latin American countries that saw an early and drastic implementation of neoliberal policies, that workers from both countries have endured for a couple of decades now, and with new generations born in this precarious scenario.

Class dimension of the precarity

Yulia Epikhina

Institute of Sociology of Russian Academy of Science, Russian Federation

There is no single definition of the concept of precariat (Barbier, J.C. ‘Precariousness’ of employment: Linguistic and conceptual differences, Political discourse and academic debate in five countries, Germany, Spain, France, Italy and the UK, Presentation for the ESOPE meeting, München, March, 5th. 2002). One of the early definitions came up in the works of P. Bourdieu who invented this term to separate permanent workers from workers with part time employment or casual jobs. (Bourdieu P., 1963, Travail et travailleurs en Algérie, Mouton et Co, Paris, p. 361). The “precarity” can be analyzed as a special type of relationships between the employer and the employee in the labor market. In other words, the “precarity” is a special case of the market situation in the Weberian definition of class situation. In the paper the precariat is analyzed in the Weberian tradition of class analysis that allows for the usage of the EGP class model. The analysis is underlain by the data of the “Social differences in the modern Russian society” survey conducted in 1998, 2007 and 2015. The main assumption of the study claims that since the first wave of the survey (the year of the total economic crisis) the precarity “has abandoned the realm of the service contract and is moving towards (in J. Goldthorpe’s term) and begins the feature of classes characterized by the work contract. Besides, the precarity state is affected by the volume of resources available to the worker, skills being a most important resource of all.

The Limits of Precariousness: The Polanyian Countermovement and German Labor Relations

Stefan Schmalz1, Daniel Meyer2, Sarah Hinz1, Ingo Singe1

1Friedrich-Schiller-University Jena, Germany; 2Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies, Cologne, Germany

For a long time, precarious labor arrangements were said to be omnipresent in East Germany. As a result of the disembedding of labor market regulation after reunification, low wages, atypical employment and long working hours were characteristic features of East German labor relations. However, recent years have seen a marked decline in unemployment, due to economic revitalization and population decline. By discussing the impact of labor market development on industrial relations, we observe a Polanyian countermovement to the commodification and precarization of labor. Our argument is twofold: First, employers recognize that existing despotic factory regimes turn dysfunctional as poor working conditions have contributed to a lack of trainees and physically demanding jobs have led to early retirement of workers. Second, unlike in the times of industrial decline that followed reunification, the disciplinary regime of precariousness tends to erode. The growing assertiveness of workers is not only reflected in a renewal of collective representation, but also in hidden forms of industrial conflict against low payment, high flexibility requirements and poor working conditions. Our paper will build on an intensive case study in one manufacturing site located in East Thuringia. The case study combines qualitative methods (22 semi-structured interviews with management, worker representatives and employees, completed in November 2016) and a quantitative workplace survey (N>=350, to be completed in March 2017). We also draw on earlier research projects such as a project on union organizing in East Germany (21 case studies).

Unpaid Artistic Labor Under Neoliberalism: Transforming Cultural Workers into Cultural Entrepreneurs in Post-Socialist Slovenia

Katja Praznik

State University of New York at Buffalo, United States of America

In the light of political transformations of socialism and the emergence of the neoliberal governmentality, this paper investigates the rise of, and contradictions specific for the unpaid artistic labor in the post-socialist context. I offer a distinctly feminist angle to the discussion of unpaid artistic labor as I relate the exceptionality of artist labor to the unwaged, feminized domestic labor. In both cases, I argue, the perceived natural calling to housework or artistic work makes this labor invisible under capital where the wage nexus is what would recognize the artist as a worker. Through an analysis of cultural policy measures that implemented competitive relations in the cultural labor market in post-socialist Slovenia, the paper demonstrates: (1) how cultural policy redefined art workers as cultural entrepreneurs by relying on the ideas about the exceptionality of artistic labor, and (2) how this changes signal the rise of neoliberal governmentality. In neoliberal political economic culture, which generalizes the principle of competition as a behavioral norm and enterprise as the model of subjectivation, I argue, the exceptionality of artistic labor coincides with the neoliberal dogma of self-expression and freedom to be embodied in entrepreneurial subjects. The rise of neoliberal governmentality thus points to a post-socialist contradiction specific for the unpaid labor: while the state still funds cultural production as a public good, it regulates artistic labor by employing exploitative techniques, which manufacture entrepreneurial subjects.

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