The current issue of the Pervasive Labor Union zine includes a letter to the editors that addresses the previous issue of the P.L.U Zine on the Entreprecariat and raises issues on the use of this term. The letter follows, together with my response.
LETTER TO THE EDITORS
“The entreprecariat”; should it be a thing?
There was a definite enjoyment to be had reading the latest issue of the pervasive labour union. The various backgrounds of the different contributions provided several strong points that sound with me personally. I agree with Mr. Lorusso’s analysis and thoughts on the precariat and how it merges with the doctrine or even ideology of entrepreneurialism. A process observable in urban areas through hectic cycling food couriers, unlicensed passenger transport and tourists searching for privately operated accommodations. In this melting pot all is navigated, dictated, as well as orchestrated by small gadgets. Such “helpers”, often prefixed as “smart”, end up being crafted and carefully advertised by marketing professionals, meanwhile creating a monopolised market place for cheap labour. Indeed this is expressed in the coined term “the entreprecariat”, where the combination of the words “entrepreneur” and “precariat” show the process of how current forms of work are shifting into other directions. While the problems raised in “the entreprecariat” pervasive labour union magazine currently occupy my thoughts, I couldn’t help myself from raising a minor concern with the term itself.
Probably every humanities (or even design) student between Venice and Amsterdam can explain, reasonably, that existing under precarious circumstances is caused by structural problems/conditions. I’m not sure however if they would explain to me that living as an entrepreneur is caused by structural problems/conditions as well, or whether it is a free self-made decision. I’m quite certain if I were to ask business students between Juneau and Shenzhen, everyone will explain me that the life of an entrepreneur is self-made and can be achieved if someone works hard enough. The term “entreprecariat” pulls in connotations from both the “entrepreneur” and the “precariat” along for the ride; connotations that hold tremendous power themselves. For me, for readers of the pervasive labour union magazine and for media scholar the term can describe the current situation quite well and is therefore well received in those circles, but I think another audience can easily misunderstand the term. The entrepreneur is seen by a large part of the public as a great ideal, something to be proud of: Who doesn’t want to be their own boss, determine their own work times, do what they enjoy most, make their own things? Therefore, it could be read that labour under the circumstances of “the entreprecariat” happens under freely self-made decisions and the non-self-caused entrepreneurial precariat would be self-accountable for this situation.
To put it crude, but ideally: We need a term that doesn’t open up the space for misunderstanding, something that even my retired uncle can understand and leaves no room for a precarious debate on terminology. Which begs the question: Should the term “The entreprecariat” be a thing?
thank you for your letter. I’m glad that you enjoyed reading the 11th Pervasive Labor Union Zine on the Entreprecariat. I’d also like to thank you for the issues you raised, which offer me the possibility to elaborate a bit more on the term “entreprecariat”, one year after I attempted to define it for the first time.
You are right to suggest that the choice of becoming an entrepreneur or the will to live entrepreneurially (which is another way to say dangerously) could be the result of a genuine self-made decision. However, if we adhere to a generalized idea of entrepreneurship, such as the one proposed by Peter Drucker (“Entrepreneurs see change as the norm and as healthy”), we soon start to realize to what extent “entrepreneurialism for the masses” functions as tool –a dispositif, if you like– to make people comfortable with unending uncertainty and, more importantly, make them personally responsible for its effects. Peter Drucker again: “We need to encourage habits of flexibility, of continuous learning, and of acceptance of change as normal and as opportunity—for institutions as well as for individuals.”
You point out that entrepreneurs are publicly celebrated and emulated, so it might seem that the entreprecariat is synonymous with autonomy. Autonomy is exactly a notion that the entreprecariat tries to problematize: how much is the precariat willing to give away in exchange for a faint illusion of autonomy?
You ask for unambiguous language that wouldn’t lead to unending terminological debates. And yet, the entreprecariat points to the very ambiguity that characterizes precarity’s relationship with professional conditions and societal expectations. The entreprecariat signals a misunderstanding because the precariat lives immersed in that misunderstanding.
Also published on Medium.