Precarity and Political Mobilization

There are three different views on potential effects of the rise of precarity within the labour market on political mobilization, as outlined below. Which of the dynamics portrayed do you recognize in your own country? Which of the three views describes the situation in your own country best and why? 

Read the following paragraphs containing three different views on precarity. Then write an essay  in which you show, how you can describe the situation in your own country by referring to at least one of the approaches (about 800 to 1200 words).

1. Precarity as a stimulus for progressive movements

Several social movements have incorporated the concept of precarity and use this to propose alternatives to the structures of capitalist and neoliberal societies (Jørgensen, 2016; Waite, 2009). For example, Alex Foti has been an activist in several social movements and organized the EuroMayDay Parades in the first decade of this century on International Worker’s Day to focus attention on the emerging precarious class overlooked by traditional unions. In his book General theory of the precariat: Great recession, revolution, reaction (2017), he pleas for radical changes to meet the needs of the precariat, including basic incomes and new forms of urban social housing. The ideological inspiration for the left should, in his view, not come from the traditional socialist or communist parties, but from a combination of Marxism and ‘eco-feminist populism’ which stands in opposition to mounting national populism.

2. Precarity as a stimulus for right-wing populism

The subtitle of Standing’s (2011) book is The New Dangerous Class. He argues that the embracement of the neoliberal agenda has created a political ‘monster’, arguing that:

“Tensions within the precariat are setting people against each other, preventing them from recognising that the social and economic structure is producing their common set of vulnerabilities. Many will be attracted by populist politicians and neo-fascist messages, a development already clearly visible across Europe, the United States and elsewhere. This is why the precariat is the dangerous class and why a ‘politics of paradise’ is needed that responds to its fears, insecurities and aspirations.” (Standing, 2011, p. 2).

Populism has been increasingly successful at positioning different groups experiencing precarity as being in competition for the same scarce resources (Hardy, 2017). In this sense, precarity reflects how a combination of extractive labour relations, austerity policies, and relegation to marginal areas of poor housing, are driving a wedge between communities. As the precariat is very heterogeneous, ranging from low-wage groups suffering high rents to irregular migrants who have limited access to support or housing, precarity might serve to undermine forms of social solidarity that would otherwise have been in place, such that aspects of the social contract are decoupled, and individuals are encouraged to see their condition as individualized rather than collective.

3. Precarity leads to powerlessness

 The challenges of forging a coalition between different precarious groups leads Wacquant (2016, p. 1083) to believe that the precariat will neither help a left-wing or a right-wing agenda necessarily. Rather, he sees the precariat as a:

“miscarried collective that can never come into its own precisely because it is deprived not just of the means of stable living but also of the means of producing its own representation. Lacking a shared language and social compass, riven by fissiparity, its members do not flock to support far-rightist parties so much as disperse and drop out of the voting game altogether as from other forms of civic participation.”

The relegation of large parts of the precariat to parts of the city that are stigmatized also curtails the possibilities of collective action. To Wacquant, territorial stigmatization is an additional force (next to labour market flexibilization) that exacerbates the powerlessness of the precariat. To avoid being contaminated by the blemish of their residential area, residents engage in coping strategies like mutual distancing, lateral denigration, and neighbourhood flight. The effect is to further erode social solidarities and forms of community at a local or neighbourhood level, and to fuel resentments within, and between, groups who are living precarious lives.


Foti, A. (2017). General theory of the precariat: Great recession, revolution, reaction. Institute of Network Cultures.

Hardy, J (2017) (Re)conceptualising precarity: institutions, structure and agency, Employee Relations, 39 (3), 263- 273.

Jørgensen, M. B. (2016). Precariat–what it is and isn’t–towards an understanding of what it does. Critical Sociology, 42(7-8), 959-974.

Standing G (2011) The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class. London: Bloomsbury.

Wacquant, L. (2016). Revisiting territories of relegation: Class, ethnicity and state in the making of advanced marginality. Urban Studies, 53(6), 1077-1088.

Waite, L. (2009). A place and space for a critical geography of precarity? Geography Compass, 3(1), 412-433.

Last modified: Monday, 12 September 2022, 11:56 AM