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Lorey, Isabell-Becoming Common, Precarization as Political Constituting

Lorey, Isabell-Becoming Common, Precarization as Political Constituting

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04/08/2014

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Isabell Lorey
BecomingCommon:Precarization asPoliticalConstituting
Political-Cultural Queerings
The discourse on precarization that has emergedin the past decade, primarily in Europe, rests onan extremely complex understanding of socialinsecurity and its productivity. The variousstrands of this discourse have been broughttogether again and again in the context of theEuropean precarious movement organized underEuroMayDay.
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This transnational movement, inexistence since the early 2000s, thematizesprecarious working and living conditions as thestarting point for political struggles and seekspossibilities for political action in neoliberalconditions. What is unusual about this socialmovement is not only the way in which under itsauspices new forms of political struggles aretested and new perspectives on precarizationdeveloped; rather Ð and this is striking in relationto other social movements Ð it is how it hasqueered the seemingly disparate fields of thecultural and the political again and again. In thepast decade, conversations concerning both the(partly subversive) knowledge of the precarious,and a search for
commons
(in order to constitutethe political), has conspicuously taken placemore often in art institutions than in social,political, or even academic contexts.ÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊIn 2004, for example, the research,exhibition, and event project ÒAtelier EuropaÓ inthe Kunstverein Munich brought theorists andartists together to exchange ideas aboutprecarious living and working conditions andpossible resistance to them.
2
The projectfocused on the increasing number and variety offorms of precarization not only in the field ofcultural production, but also in social fields,especially the caregiving and reproduction workstill largely assigned to women.
3
The feministactivist group from Madrid, ÒPrecarias a laderiva,Ó provided an important contribution inthis respect.
4
 ÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊAnother example from 2004: on the daybefore May 1, activists from Indymedia groupsfrom all over Spain met at the invitation of theBarcelona Museum of Contemporary Art(MACBA) to conduct an intensive debate abouttheir media activism practices. On May 1 they notonly took part in the EuroMayDay demonstrationbut also carried the problematization ofprecarious working conditions back to MACBA. Itbecame possible to articulate a critique of theambivalent role of art institutions: on the onehand, institutions in the art field were the site ofcritical discussions of neoliberal transformationprocesses; on the other, such institutions wereimportant players in the game of cognitivecapitalism and increasing precarizationtendencies.
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ÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊAs a final example, In January 2005 theinternational conference ÒKlartext!Ó took placein Berlin in the KŸnstlerhaus Bethanien and theVolksbŸhne am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz, devotedto the ÒStatus of the Political in ContemporaryArt and Culture.Ó
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Many of those invited werealso activists in the transnational EuroMayDaynetwork who had met on the day before theconference in Berlin. They brought the currentproblematizations of precarization into theconference (and were able to have their travelcosts reimbursed).ÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊBeyond these examples, theoreticalanalyses of precarization linked to activistpractices (such as in the context of theEuroMayDay network) were increasingly carriedout in online journals conjoining art, politicaltheory, and activism, such as
Mute
magazine or
transversal
Ð many years before precaritybecame a major theme in institutionalized socialscience research.
7
Normalizing and Steering Differences
Precarization is by no means a phenomenon thatfirst affects social groups imagined to be at themargins before moving into the center to affectthe so-called middle class Ð those who havesecured their position within the capitalistproduction regime, and who are therefore able tofortify and improve their social position. A modelof this kind, based on precarious margins and athreatened center, does not do justice to theremodeling and outright dismantling of socialsecurity systems in Europe. It is a developmentthat reached the so-called center a long timeago, with the massive reduction of permanentemployment contracts and the increase intemporary jobs sometimes calling for a highdegree of mobility, with or without minimal socialsecurity benefits such as health insurance, paidholidays, or pensions.ÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊIn the context of such changes,precarization can be seen as a neoliberalinstrument of governance. Neoliberal societiesare now governed internally through socialinsecurity, which means providing the minimumpossible social security. Precarization iscurrently in a process of normalization, taking itscue from administrative strategies that wereproblematic even before Fordism. Just as theFordist social welfare state represents ahistorical exception, so too can precariousworking conditions be understood as an anomalyor deviation.
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 ÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊWhile the art of governing currently consistsof introducing a lack of security, normalizing ageneral condition of precariousness also doesnot produce any form of equality in the midst ofinsecurity. For good reason, neoliberal logicwants no reduction, no end to inequality,because it necessarily toys with hierarchicaldifferences and governs on the basis of them.This administrative logic no longer focuses onregulating fixed differences in identity, butregulates the Òabsolute povertyÓ that couldprevent individuals from being competitive.
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Ifwe understand precarization in this sense as thenormalization and steering of differences in themidst of insecurity, then it becomes pointless toconstruct specialized groups with criticalemancipatory intentions around notions ofprecarity, as divisions into Òluxury precarityÓ andÒimpoverished precarityÓ ultimately onlyreproduce neoliberal dynamics ofcompetitiveness between different degrees ofprecarization.ÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊIf precarization has become a governmentalinstrument of normalization surpassing specificgroups and classes, then social and politicalbattles themselves should not assumedifferential separations and hierarchies. Rather,those who wage such battles should lookspecifically for what they have in common in themidst of normalization: a desire to make use ofthe productivity of precarious living and workingconditions to change these modes of governing,a means of working together to refuse and eludethem.
Debates over New Political Practices
So as not to further isolate the manifoldprecariat, in the past decade critical discoursesand resistant practices in the context ofprecarization have repeatedly concentrated onwhat the precarious in have in common. This kindof search for commonality begins fromdifferences and does not end in uniformity;rather, it is accompanied by permanent debatesabout what counts as the common.ÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊThe theoretical reflections arrayed againstprecarization derive a great deal of inspirationfrom poststructuralist and Post-Operaistthinking, indicative of a search for practicesoutside the realm of traditional politics ofrepresentation. These politics, in whichrepresentation is primarily understood as astand-in, are not only evident in parliamentarydemocracies, but also inform leftist politicalnotions of a collective subject that should beable to articulate demands (representationally)with one voice, as is typical of political practices.Yet when it is a matter of searching for thecommon in the various forms of precarization, forpossibilities of coming together to form alliancesthrough difference, then identitary, subject-oriented politics are obviously not suitable fortheir hindering of what is common indifference.
10
 ÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊIn addition, particularly among leftists, onehas to be reminded that expressions of solidarity
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