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Session Overview
RS11_07: Young workers under precarious conditions
Thursday, 22/Aug/2019:
4:00pm - 5:30pm

Session Chair: Annalisa Murgia, University of Milan
Session Chair: Renato Miguel Carmo, Instituto Universitário de Lisboa (ISCTE-IUL)
Location: UP.4.212
University of Manchester Building: University Place, Fourth Floor Oxford Road

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Portraits of Young Workers: for a Sociological Understanding of Precariousness

Renato Miguel Carmo1, Ana Rita Matias2

1Instituto Universitário de Lisboa (ISCTE-IUL), Portugal; 2Instituto de Ciências Sociais, Universidade Lisboa, Portugal

The European labour market has undergone significant changes in recent years. One of the most recent trends has been the significant growth of precarious contracts among young people. The low demand for labour and the reduced household income have meant that individuals in the 18-30 age bracket become particularly vulnerable to precarious working conditions. With this presentation the authors aim to discuss the results of a qualitative research analysis based on in-depth interviews conducted to Portuguese young workers with degrees in different scientific areas, living in Lisbon (aged until 32 years old), which found themselves in professional and contractual uncertainty. We will present seven sociological portraits of young workers interviewed within 2016 and 2018. The sociological portraits were able to characterize the evolution of the professional and personal trajectory of the interviewees, within a time interval of two years. With this methodological approach, inspired by the work of Bernard Lahire in Portraits sociologiques (2014 [2002]), we sought to understand the social and individual impacts of precariousness on the way of life of young people. Based on the analysis of a varied set of objective and subjective dimensions that reflect the individuals' perceptions about their life paths in the present and the future, it was important to comprehend if precariousness continued to characterize professional trajectories identified in the first interviews, and what their implications in everyday life and the future expectations of young people.

Trapped in Precariousness? State Dependence of Employment Precariousness among Young People in Germany

Kerstin Jahn

Institute for Employment Research (IAB), Germany

This study examines whether young people experience path dependence of precarious working conditions resembling descents into precariousness during their labor market entry. As studies reveal, labor market entries of young people have gained complexity and insecurity. They change faster and faster and they increasingly contain phases of unemployment, transition measures and precarious employment. While growing insecurities affect the majority of young people, those with low qualifications and scarce social resources experience especially risky transitions into employment. So far, it has remained an open question whether processes of cumulative disadvantages start during the labor market entry. This study tests the assumption that precarious employment causes true state dependence in the form of a higher risk for young people in precarious employment to remain in precarious employment. Methodologically, the statistical model differentiates between path dependence as true state dependence and spurious state dependence where remaining in precarious employment is explained by labor market related individual characteristics like educational level or social background.

I use data from the German Socio-Economic-Panel (GSOEP 1993-2016) for the analysis. The sample consists of young people in the beginning of their employment careers. An index of seven dimensions of employment operationalizes precariousness including income insecurity, lack of social security protection and job uncertainty. The index permits to analyze true state dependence regarding employment precariousness. The results show that episodes of employment precariousness increase the risk to remain stuck successively in precarious working contexts.

Living with Precarity in Germany and Poland. Comparing the experiences of Young Workers

Vera Trappmann1, Adam Mrozowicki2

1Leeds University Business School, United Kingdom; 2University of Wrocław

In the context of debates on the meanings of precarious employment, this paper explores the varied ways young workers in Poland and Germany are managing precarity. Biographical narrative interviews with 121 young people - either employed in insecure and low-paid jobs, who were unemployed or who were in precarious vocational educational training (VET) - were conducted and the data analysis revealed four different ways interviewees were coping with precarity. These different ways of coping reflected the varied ways in which interviewees were orientated to work, the meanings attributed by them to precarious employment and the material and cultural resources they possessed. It is argued that despite institutional differences, the ways of managing precarity in both countries are similar and represent a tendency to endure precarity and cope with it by individual means. Simultaneously, the cases of calling precarity into question were more typical of young Poles than Germans. Cross-country differences are explained by the mechanisms of institutional support for young workers and the greater belief in meritocracy in Germany.

Being Artist in Milan: Young Women Between Entrepreneurship and Precariousness

Emanuela Naclerio

University of Milan, Italy, University of Turin, Italy

This paper aims at bringing a contribution to the current debate on neoliberal subjectivities and precariousness by investigating the case of young precarious women in the performing arts’ sector. Scholars in the Foucauldian tradition have analysed how neoliberalism transforms subjectivities into an “entrepreneurial subject” devoted to grow its personal and competitive human capital (Foucault, 2008). Nowadays, the ways workers’ subjectivities are constructed are significantly affected by the current process of precarisation, which is not just about work, but about the life of subjects themselves (Butler, 2006).

Building on these theoretical frameworks, this paper focuses on the construction of neoliberal subjectivities in the Italian’s performing art sector. The findings are drawn on a series of in-depth interviews with performers aged under 35, working in Milan between 2018 and 2019.

The analysis contributes to the current debate, firstly by exploring the performing arts’ sector, characterised by a high degree of informality in the job market’s access, and by narratives that explicitly emphasize self-realisation and competition (Menger, 2014). Secondly because it focuses on young women, who have recently been considered as neoliberal subjects par excellence (Gill, Scharff, 2011).

In the discussion, particular attention is given to the forms of resistance to both precariousness and the dominant neoliberal model based on self-entrepreneurship and competitiveness.


Butler, J. (2006). Precarious life: the powers of mourning and violence. London; New York: Verso.

Foucault, M. (2008). The Birth of Biopolitics: Lectures at the Collège de France 1978–1979. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Gill, R., Scharff, C. (Eds.) (2011). New femininities: postfeminism, neoliberalism, and subjectivity. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Menger, P.M. (2014). The economics of creativity: art and achievement under uncertainty. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

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