Organising Labour and Negotiating Precarity

‘After the Economy’ public seminar series

monday 7/12/09 14:00 – 17:30 gradcam seminar room, john’s street, d8.

precarious questions

Increasingly today workers are under pressure from the ‘massive attack’ of neo-liberal policies, global recession, and the ‘race to the bottom’. The result of these processes is the emergence of a greater number of vulnerable people whose working conditions are converging. The growing application of flexible, part-time, temporary and contract work is threatening both the middle-classes and the working poor. Precariousness is manifested through migration as the central driver of global capital in the contemporary world both in terms of the flight of jobs to low-wage economies and the ever-present threat of ‘capital flight’. As a result precariousness is the common characteristic that links the experience of the low-waged, the unemployed, agency/temp workers, and increasingly the well-earning strata of recent times; the self-employed, journalists, artists/creatives, academics, and teachers, amongst others. In response to this common situation you are invited to engage with us to address the following questions:

  • What is precarity? What is organised labour?

  • What is the relationship between organised labour and the precariat?

  • Who is the precariat? Does it signal a convergence of class interest?

  • How does this complicate cultural work?

This is the second seminar in the ‘after the economy‘ series. Seminar two in this series is organised by John Buckley andGlenn Loughran. (The first seminar in the series examined the terms ‘immaterial labour’ and ‘creative economy’.)


  • Magdalena Freudenschuß is a PhD candidate in sociology at the Humboldt University in Berlin, Germany. Her dissertation explores the negotiations on precarity/precariousness in public discourse. She is one of the co-editors of Femina Politica, a review for feminist political science, and works as a trainer in political education.
  • Michael Taft is an economic adviser to Unite. His blog ‘Notes on the Front’ confronts the hard-line economic analysis found in much mainstream media See [] He also writes forProgressive-Economy []
  • Mick O’Reilly is a leading trade unionist and former regional secretary of the trade union Unite the second largest union in Ireland. As a counterweight to SIPTU, Unite has been highly critical of the 21-year old social partnership process currently in crisis.

some competing ideas of precarity

“a different future, by definition, can only be constructed precariously, without firm grounds for doing so, without the measure of a general rule, and with questions that should, often, shake us – particularly what ‘us’ might mean.’”
Angela Mitropoulos (2005) Precari-Us? See [] and []

“twenty-first-century culture is invented with those works that set themselves the task of effacing their origin in favor of a multitude of simultaneous or successive enrootings? This process of obliteration is part of the condition of the wanderer, a central figure of our precarious era, who insistently is emerging at the heart of contemporary artistic creation.”
Nicolas Bourriaud (2009) The Radicant.

“In 2003, the concept of precarity emerged as the central organizing platform for a series of social struggles that would spread across thespace of Europe. Four years later, almost as suddenly as the precarity movement appeared, so it would enter into crisis. To understand precarity as a political concept it is necessary to go beyond economic approaches that see social conditions determined by the mode of production. Such a moverequires us to see Fordism as exception and precarity as norm. The political concept and practice of translation enables us to frame the precarity of creative labour in a broader historical and geographical perspective, shedding light on its contestation and relation to theconcept of the common.”
Brett Neilson and Ned Rossiter (2008) Precarity as a Political Concept: New Forms of Connection, Subjectivation and Organization”, A Precarious Existence: Vulnerability in the Public Domain, Open No. 17. pp. 48-63.

“Neo-liberal practices such as temporary and causal employment, chains of sub-contracting and informalisation affect both native and migrant workers. However, it is disadvantaged and vulnerable workers – migrant women, irregular workers, ethnic and racial minorities – who get the most precarious positions. But the deprivation of human and worker rights is giving rise to new social movements, such as the strikes of migrant workers in Dubai in 2006, the migrant rights demonstrations of 2006 in the USA, and the movements of youth of migrant background in European cities. The global financial crisis of 2008 could be a turning point, but the direction is not predetermined: it may lead to new forms of exploitation of vulnerable groups, or to employment and migration regimes based on equal citizenship and rights for all.”
Stephen Castles Research Professor of Sociology, University of Sydney and Associate Director of the International Migration Institute (IMI), University of Oxford.

after the economy

The Graduate School of Creative Arts & Media invites you to join a series of seminars that seek to challenge current orthodoxies concerning culture and economy and to re-imagine correlations between cultural production, the creation of wealth, and the value of labour.

Under the title of After the Economy, three seminars will offer informative presentations on problems and arguments relating to key pairings of concepts, followed by shorter presentations and discussion, in order to establish a series of platforms for dialogue and possible collaboration.

The next seminar in the series is Culture and Citizenship Wednesday 17th February 2010, 14:00 to 17:00. This session will also be part of the programme of the conference ‘Arts Research: Publics and Purposes‘.


Some texts of interest::

• Freudenschuß, Magdalena (2009) ‘Negotiating Precariousness: Navigating Discursive In/Visibilities’, in In/visibility: Perspectives on Inclusion and Exclusion, ed. L. Freeman, Vienna: IWM Junior Visiting Fellows’ Conferences, Vol. 26.
• Lazzarato, M. (1997) ‘Immaterial Labour’,
• Von Osten, M. (2004) ‘Double-Edged: creating an exhibition project on the contemporary transformations of creativity’,
• Henry, C. and Johnson, K. (2007), ‘The Creative Industries: Ireland’s New Tiger Economy?’ Irish Journal of Management, 28: 2

An extended bibliography relevant to the seminar series will be distributed to all participants at the time of the seminar.


To reserve a place please contact John Buckley at: straylight2006(at)

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