Knowing Nothing

How should we conceive precarity? What characterizes this condition? I republish here a definition of precarity found in the glossary of Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi’s Precarious Rhapsody (2009). Berardi’s definition seems to confirm the idea that precarity is first and foremost a matter of perception and subsequent emotions, it is a kind of feedback loop between the two. Material deprivation and poverty play a central role in the precarious experience but they are not its determinant feature. When they aren’t really part of one’s life, they still function as a presage, a presentiment, that in turn affects daily life and decision making. Bifo describes the inability to imagine one’s own future and the constant presence of anxiety. Clearly, this state of affair is not exceptional anymore. In order to change it, the precariat needs to formulate and articulate a series of demands, but how to do so when you can’t foresee your own life in a year from now? In other words, how to act against precarity if your time and thoughts are occupied by the state of being precarious? It seems that one needs stability in order to address precarity.

Precarious is person who is able to know nothing about one’s own future and therefore is hung by the present and praises God to be rescued from the earthly hell (the term precarity derives from praying). We speak of precarious labor when labor is subordinated to a form of flexible and unregulated exploitation, subjected to daily fluctuations of the labor market, and forced to endure the blackmail of a discontinuous salary. The precarious worker is not formally employed, and still his existence is not at all free, the waged relationship is discontinuous and occasional, and still the dependence is continuous and full of anxiety. In the 1970s and 80s when the dismantling of the Fordist system and guaranteed wages tied to industrial production began, precarious working conditions appeared as a marginal and temporary phenomenon that concerned above all the young workers that entered into the labor market. Today it is clear that labor precariousness is no longer a marginal condition, but it is the black heart of the process of global capitalistic production. Precarization is the consequence of the deterritorialization of all aspects of production. There is no continuity in the work experience: one does not go to the same factory, does not cover the same journey, and does not meet the same people everyday, as it was in the industrial age. Therefore it is not possible to implement forms of permanent social organization. Since labor became precarious thanks to a cellular and reticular transformation, the problem of the autonomous organization of labor must be completely rethought. We still do not know in which way this organization can be constructed: this is the main political problem of the future.

 

Silvio Lorusso

Silvio Lorusso is a Rotterdam-based artist, designer, and researcher. His current research focuses on the relationship between entrepreneurship and precarity, i.e. entreprecariat. His work was shown at Transmediale (Berlin, Germany), NRW- Forum (Düsseldorf, Germany), Impakt (Utrecht, Netherlands), Sight & Sound (Montreal, Canada), Adhocracy (Athens, Greece), Biennale Architettura (Venezia, Italy). He holds a Ph.D. in Design Sciences from the School of Doctorate Studies – Iuav University of Venice. His writing has appeared in Prismo, Printed Web 3, Metropolis M, Progetto Grafico, Digicult, Diid, and Doppiozero. His work has been featured in, among others, The Guardian, The Financial Times, and Wired. Currently, he works as a mentor at the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences’ PublishingLab.

 

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