Digitisation and Precarisation – Redefining Work and Redefining Society

Off it went – the script, as “final draft” – had been sent to Springer who agreed already to publish the work as part of the S.U.P.I.series – SUPI being the network researching issues of social uncertainty, precarity and Inequality.

The following presents the outline of the book. Below then part of the first contribitution as kind of teaser, followed at the end by the list of contributors.

Vyacheslav Bobkov/Peter Herrmann (Eds.)

Digitisation and Precarisation – Redefining Work and Redefining Society


Peter Herrmann/Vyacheslav Bobkov       6

Foreword: Digitisation and Precarisation – Redefining Work and Redefining Society     6

Abstract    6

General Remarks        6

Searching for a Framework         9

Bibliography      33

Peter Herrmann       38

Economy of Difference and Social Differentiation    38

Precarity – searching for a new interpretative paradigm          38

Introduction      38

Varieties of Capitalism or Variety Within the One Capitalism?        42

Capitalism in One Country?         46

Societal Development – Between Inclusion and Exclusion     51

Dis-Embeddedness – Searching the Reference     53

Evaluating Costs         59

Empirical Dimensions         63

References         65

Vyacheslav Bobkov  73

Society under Threat of Precarity of Employment   73

Theory and Methodology   73

Outline of ontological characteristics of societies with unstable (Precarious) employment       79

About the axiological characteristics of social structures of precarious employment        85

Social housing standards: minimum, medium and high housing standards.   89

Conclusion         93

References         95

Nataliya Loktyukhina        98

Precarious Employment: Definition of the Concept Given by Russian Researchers98

The Relevance of the Research   98

Variations in Defining the Concept of “Precarious Employment”   99

Russian Experts’ Appreciation of PE Definitions.  101

Compulsory character of relations in flexible (non-standard) employment as a criterion of precarity      103

Types of Employment with High Precarity Potential     105

Features of Precarity Recognized and Unrecognized by the Employee.  109

Complex of Probabilistic Criteria of Precarity.       110

Conclusion.         113

References.        114

I.V. Novikova    117

Digitalization: a New Form of Precarity or New Opportunities?       117

  1. Digitizing of Jobs 117
  2. Elimination of Territorial Boundaries of Jobs’ dislocation 120

III.  Generation Z Enters the Labour Market          122

  1. Development of Specialisation, Multitasking and Vertical Disintegration of Production. 124
  2. Differentiation of Income 125
  3. Non-conventional Workplaces 126

VII. Online-platforms127

Conclusions: Factors of Digitalization, Facilitating and Restraining Precarity of Employment    129

References         130

Olesya Veredyuk       136

Labour market performance and digitisation of work: brief overview    136

Abstract    136

Introductory Overview       136

Precarious employment: quantitative and qualitative measurements    138

Precarisation aspects of digitisation     141

Institutional nature of employment precarity       142

Conclusion         144


Veronica Sheen         146

Australia’s precarious workforce and the role of digitalisation      146

Introduction      146

Overview of Australian employment   147

Integration into employment      150

Fragmentation of employment    153

21stcentury hyper-flexibility and job insecurity  154

Precarious employment and social control   155

Conclusion         156

References         159

Nicole Horáková       163

The Czech Republic – a Case Study   163

Introduction      163

Economic Development and Labour Market: From Basement-Dweller to Top Performer?        165

Development of Employment and Unemployment in the Czech Republic      165

Changing Working Contracts?       166

Rising Debts of Czech Households  168

Challenges Presented for the Czech Republic by Industry 4.0 and Digitization       168

Challenges for the Industry         170

How Digitalized is the Czech Population?         172

Industry 4.0 and Digitization: New Forms of Employment on the Czech Labour Market?       173

Education as a key activity175

Conclusion: Is the Czech Society Prepared?176

Bibliography      177

Judit Csoba       181

„Predictable uncertainty” – Social Land Programme in Hungary      181

Abstract    181

Introduction      181

The Social Land Program between 1993 and 2004      182

“Village enterprise” – The new character of the Social Land Program: cooperatives instead of households       186

Social Land Program without land       188

Main dilemmas of the Social Land Programme     191

Summary  193

Bibliography      195

Mehmet Okyayuz      199

Affirmative and Alternative Discourses and Practices of Knowledge Production and Distribution in Turkey199

  1. The Metapolitics of Digitization: The Political-Ideological Discourse of Producing and Distributing Knowledge200
  2. Digitization as an Affirmative Practice in the Global System208

Ray Griffin/Tom Boland/Aisling Tuite / Aoife Hennessy         218

Electric dreams of welfare in the 4thindustrial revolution: An actor-network investigation and genealogy of an Algorithm.218

Abstract    218

Introduction: The Algorithm of life in the 4thIndustrial revolution         220

Socio-Technical Control of Welfare      222

Digital dole – PEX       224

PEX and the Irish Welfare System       227

The implications of the use of an algorithm in context  231

The social life of the PEX algorithm     232

Technotopia, Theology and Redemption      235

Enter faith, then God237

In sum       239

Bibliography      241

Vadim Kvachev         247

Bringing Precarity to the Political Agenda        247

Contributors    260



The editors want to thank all contributors for the work and the patience which allowed taking the time for the work on the book. We also are grateful for the editors of the series, namely David Kregel, Rolf Hepp and Robert Riesinger – equally patient and supportive. Not least special thanks go to Veronica Sheen who helped with some language editing.

The work on the individual contributions benefited from different sources which are – where applicable – mentioned by the authors.

Peter Herrmann wants to extend his expression of gratitude to the Max-Planck- Institute for Social Law and Social Policy, Munich and the Faculty of Economics and Sociology, University of  Łódź – without their generous support the editorial work would not have been possible.

(just some teaser .. – though many contributions are highly empirical …)

Peter Herrmann/Vyacheslav Bobkov

Foreword: Digitisation and Precarisation – Redefining Work and Redefining Society


Currently it is fashionable to talk about digitisation, robotisation, industry 4.0, but also about the gig economy, the Millenials, precarisation and the like. However, too often the relevant issues are taken in isolation, very much caught in traditional terms. The present collection aims on providing some thoughts that allow going further, on the one hand by qualifying some of the aspects, and on the other hand by taking a view that approaches the topic from distinct perspectives in order to arrive at an assessment of emerging societal changes.

General Remarks

The present collection is an attempt to define the field of precarity more systematically than it is usually undertaken. Doing so, there had been at least theoretically different options. The two most obvious approaches are the following: leaving it to the contributors to find their own definition and applying it to national frameworks, later gathering the different approaches in an attempt to find a minimum common denominator. The other, not fundamentally different, endeavour would be to start from a “standard definition”, e.g. one used by major statistical proponents as EUROSTAT, the ILO or OECD, asking the contributors to evaluate and assess the situation in specific fields and countries, then leaving it to the editors again to come up with a minimum common denominator. The problem in both of the cases is that the object of investigation is both, complex and multifaceted as well as relational. Another, pragmatic, challenge is in both cases the need to gather a research team that is able to work along such a given line, in turn committing themselves to such task, which simply requires available resources that allow retreating from other ongoing work.

In any case, in particular the relational character of the subject issue advises to avoid from the outset an approach that requires a firm foundation which is then used to assess the problem by scaling, i.e. suggesting different degrees to which we may speak of precarity. Such approach would suggest at least the following

  • a once and forever given normality, thus neglecting the fact that full and permanent employment – usually counterposed to precarity – is a socio-economic construct that is hugely presupposition-rich. In actual fact it can be said that it is based on a systematic reversal of reality – as concluded in the contribution by Herrmann the means of (re-)production – and with this employment as specific form of work – are fictitious part of human existence, not more and not anything else than means to maintain physical existence. In other words, what is supposedly normal appears now as socio-historical exception
  • furthermore, it is easily overlooked that such “supposed norm” usually depends on derivations: the two most obvious instances are (i) the need for non- or not completely commodified spheres that secure employment as dominant (e.g. housework, social benefits in cases of unemployment, sickness …) and (ii) the local and regional segregation and “division of work” that secures the execution of societally necessary tasks despite extremely dispersed conditions of profitability (e.g. the rural-urban-divide)
  • relevant is also that we are witnessing the multifaceted character by way such normality being itself in some way a patchwork: if we take as more or less arbitrary example, permanent 40 years full-time (forty-hours/week) employment as norm, it will most likely take for every individual a different shape: times of education may under certain conditions be acknowledged as acceptable derivations; DIY or temporary private saving from some kind of “windfall income” may work out as individual solution as some form of “unviable saving” (e.g. substandard accommodation …) may offer temporary substitution for failing to reach the norm
  • moreover – without claiming that this is an exhaustive compilation – in particular socio-economic changes that are part of socio-technical and socio-spatial shifts may well change the overall setting of soci(et)al embedding, disembedding and communication – bonds and margins, solidarities and hostilities are redefined, opening new forms of material support but also new mechanisms of exclusion.

One of the core problems is that there is no – even roughly defined – clear line allowing a demarcation between different facets – insecurity of employment, but only if it is lasting, and only if it is connected with serious material cutbacks, and/or only if it seriously influences social embeddedness and causes psychological distress? Another approach could look for more societal dimensions, asking if we should speak of precarity only if “classical patterns of unemployment” do not apply, as we see it today, where some definitions refer simply to insecure employment moving into the centre of society – a title like InfoproletárIos. Degradação real do trabalho virtual, speaking of degradation in connection with virtual work (Antunes/Braga, 2009) is surely telling as it implies a downward-turn from a given status. On the other hand we witness empirically different patterns: the down-grading of existing jobs, the emergence of new jobs that are from the outset defined by precarious conditions, and a variety of “entries” into a segment which Ricardo Antunes classifies in a broader sense, starting by looking at the character of work; for him “(t)he future of work for the world’s laboring masses appears to be one of flexible employment, with no pre-established working days, no clearly defined working spaces, no fixed wages, no pre-determined activities, no rights, and no protection or representation by trade unions. The system of “goals” itself is flexible: tomorrow’s goals are always changing, and must always be superior to those of the previous day.” (Antunes, 2018). Different approaches can be taken and looking at the literature shows that the most common reference is that we are dealing with some kind of “patchwork”. Different criteria, different combinations, usually centring on employment patterns, reaching from there out to all spheres of life.

In concrete terms this means that this volumes compiles contributions that aim on making a distinct input to the debate by looking at different aspects instead of presenting a strictly comparative perspective. The contributors followed some generally accepted “fundamentals”, highlighting in an interpretative way their meaning regarding the chosen functions and dysfunctions of socio-economic integration. In addition, and this is actually part of the comparative perspective, it is also about the interpretation in the specific national perspectives.



Bobkov, YyacheslavDoctor of Economics, Professor, Head of the Laboratory of Problems of Life Quality and Living Standards of the Institute of Socio – Economic Problems of Population of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow, Russia

Boland, Tomis a lecturer in sociology in the school of humanities and co-founder of WUERC (Waterford Unemployment Experiences Research Collaborative)

Csoba, JuditProf. Dr. habil. Department of Sociology and Social Policy, University of Debrecen. Research focus: Sociology of Work, Social Policy, Employment Policy, Social Economy

Griffin, Raylecturer in strategy in the school of business, he is co-PI of the PEX project and co-founder of WUERC (Waterford Unemployment Experiences Research Collaborative)

Hennessy, Aoifelecturer in mathematics in the school of science and computing and is co-PI of the PEX Project.

Herrmann, Petersocial philosopher, having worked globally in research and teaching positions in particular on social policy and economics.

Horáková, NicoleDepartment of Sociology, Faculty of Arts, University of Ostrava

Kvachev, Vadim PhD in Sociology, Assistant Professor, Plekhanov Russian University of Economics, Moscow

Loktyukhina, NataliaDoctor of Economics, Professor, Academy of Labour and Social Relations

Novikova, IrinaPh.D. in Economics, Associate Professor, the Laboratory of Problems of Living Standards and Quality of Life of the Institute of Socio-Economic Problems of Population; Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow

Mehmet OkyayuzDepartment of Political Science and Public Administration at Middle East Technical University in Ankara/Turkey. Some of his areas of research and education are labor migration along with Political Theory/Thought, Social Policy and Ideology Research

Sheen, VeronicaAustralian social researcher, specializing in the growth and effects of precarious employment which was the subject of her doctoral research at Monash University. She is a widely published commentator on the future of work

Tuite, Aislingis a post-doctoral researcher on the PEX Project

Veredyuk, OlesjaPhD, Associate Professor, Saint Petersburg University, Russia

Ten years on … – no wisdom gained?

Of course, there are many contestable issues concerned with the “ten years on” – leaving the question of timing aside, one point may well be concerned with the word “on”, considering that it should be replaced by “into” or even “digging the grave deeper”. The success-stories so far are, if they exist, stories about de-synchronisation: the fact that some countries succeeded again in a more pronounced way to live on the back of others, temporary victories, and often victories for the countries, not for the people (for instance good overall “economic performance” often means increasing inequality)  …
Preparing the class for coming Monday, but also working on finalising the book
Changing the Socio-Economic Formation – Revisiting Value and Valuation in a Globalising Digital World
I looked up a Briefing Note, presented in 2008, in preparation of the OECD Global Forum on International Investment, titled
It is not looking at the crisis – if the collapse of Lehmann Brothers is taken as reference, it would be even a pre-crisis work, presented on a pre-crisis conference. What makes it interesting (surely – not only – for my classes “Development versus Growth”) is the fact of presenting in a masterful way the shortcoming of an understanding of economics and political economy that can well be seen as structural weakness leading to a crisis like the one we are still suffering from (sure, not everybody).
A quote right from the beginning of the briefing note:
The service sector makes an important contribution to GDP in most countries, providing jobs, inputs and public services for the economy. Trade in services can improve economic performance and provide a range of traditional and new export opportunities. However, services liberalisation also carries risks, and appropriate regulation and other complementary policies help to ensure that liberalisation delivers the expected benefits. We have reviewed the literature on these issues for 6 service sectors (tourism, financial services, energy services, information and communications technology, and Mode IV), … .
And it goes on and goes on and goes on in this spirit, not talking about the essentials of what should be at stake of any analysis. Engels, in 1884, wrote:
According to the materialistic conception, the determining factor in history is, in the last resort, the production and reproduction of the immediate life. But this itself is again of a twofold character. On the one side, the production of the means of subsistence, of food and clothing and shelter and the implements required for this; on the other, the production of human beings themselves, the propagation of the species. The social institutions under which men of a definite historical epoch and of a particular country live are determined by both kinds of production: by the stage of development of labour, on the one hand, and of the family, on the other.
(Engels, Frederick, 1884: Origins of the Family, Private Property, and the State. Preface [to the First Edition]; in: Karl Marx Frederick Engels. Collected Works. Volume 26. Frederick Engels. 1882-89; London: Lawrence&Wishart, 1990: 131-133)
The OECD-experts go exactly the other way round, starting from the end – and actually defining the end as ultimate point of departure and ultimate goal: growth, though remaining undefined, only specified by the reference to the GDP.
Indeed, there is something interesting about GDP and Development.
In fact, the up for some may mean the move back for others
Commonly the “concept” of GDP is attributed to Simon Kuznet – detailed in 1934 in
, it is time to acknowledge that already then the author spelled out – more or less at the outset:
The welfare of a nation can, therefore, scarcely be inferred from a measurement of national income as defined above. (page 7)
And he continues:
The abuses of national income estimates arise largely from a failure to take into account the precise definition of income and the methods of its evaluation which the estimator assumes in arriving at his final figures. Notions of productivity or welfare as understood by the user of the estimates are often read by him into the income measurement, regardless of the assumptions made by the income estimator in arriving at the figures. As a result we find all too commonly such inferences that a decline of 30 percent in the national income (in terms of “constant” dollars) means a 30 percent decline in the total productivity of the nation, and a corresponding decline in its welfare. Or that a nation whose total income is twice the size of the national income of another country is twice “as well off”, can sustain payments abroad twice as large or can carry a debt burden double in size. Such statements can obviously be true only when gualified by a host of “ifs.”
A detail, mentioned at the end of the report, is surely of special interest:
The individual industries included here are photography, undertaking, mausoleum and cemetery operation, social service agencies, athletic, yacht, and country clubs, Y.M.C.A.’s, Y.W.C.A/s, and other services not accounted for elsewhere. Most of these services are of a type not easily curtailed or dispensed with, while social and welfare agencies have had a special reason for increasing since 1929. The number of employees was about a quarter of a million in 1929 and probably increased, or at least did not decline greatly, during the 3 following years (see table 200). The estimated average compensation of employees is probably fairly near the actual situation for 1929 but the trend shown since that year, except that there was probably very little per capita decline, is open to question as far as the country as a whole is concerned. (page 140)
Well, perhaps this is what the briefing says???: “Think of your people and your countries economy and accept: poverty is good for you.” In plain language – and this is very much the underlying gist of IMF and World Bank politics – be nationalist and socially unjust.
I am sure, those who write those reports, will not face what poverty or lack of wellbeing etc. mean.
Of course, this is only the visible, more or less tangible part of the underlying misinterpretation of economics: While calculations may well be correct, fact is – as John Maynard Keynes convincingly wrote in 1936:

Too large a proportion of recent ‘mathematical’ economics are mere concoctions, as imprecise as the initial assumptions they rest on, which allow the author to lose sight of the complexities and interdependencies of the real world in a maze of pretentious and unhelpful symbols.

(Keynes 1936)

Still, if we look at the title of the quoted opus magnum presented by Keynes reads

The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money

and we still may remain without considering the entire depth of reference. Of course, not every book can start with all the life stories …- but at least it should commence by focusing on the real life situation and the supply conditions and the relationality that is part of it. – Think about employment conditions that allow flexibility and reduction of working time without lowering wage and without stress caused by any fear, thus possibly causing the GDP to drop, but enabling employees to care for relatives, to be politically active, to follow their “intellectual needs” … As much as items expressed by GDP are mere means to an end, the same is true for employment, the ends not being products and services, the end not being income but “production and reproduction of the immediate life”.

Even Alfred Marshall, rightly criticised for his contribution to the mathematisation of economics, knew better than many who still highlight the centrality of employment today, (and here; and many could be added) knew better. As we can read in the Memorials of Alfred Marshall (edited 1925 by Arthur Cecil Pigou), Pigou states in his own contribution to the book (page 84):

Though a skilled mathematician, he used mathematics sparingly. He saw that excessive reliance on this instrument might lead us astray in pursuit of intellectual toys, imaginary problems not conforming to the conditions of real life: and further, might distort our sense of proportion by causing us to neglect factors that could not easily be worked up in the mathematical machine.

Acknowledging this, there would not have been any need to write to the Queen …

Gach rud is fearr! …

Quick info – just in case: My phone does not work at the moment, thus I also cannot be reached via ordinary phone calls, SMS, WhatsApp or WeChat …

here the little “novel” to it:
Why not reachable? Here you see, first by taking a quote from Graeber’s book:
3. what duct tapers do
Duct tapers are employees whose jobs exist only because of a glitch or fault in the organization; who are there to solve a problem that ought not to exist. I am adopting the term from the software industry, but I think it has more general applicability. ”
On the social level, duct taping has traditionally been women’s work. Throughout history, prominent men have wandered about oblivious to half of what’s going on around them, treading on a thousand toes; it was typically their wives, sisters, mothers, or daughters who were left with the responsibility of performing the emotional labor of soothing egos, calming nerves, and negotiating solutions to the problems they created. In a more material sense, duct taping might be considered a classic working-class function. The architect may come up with a plan that looks stunning on paper, but it’s the builder who has to figure out how to actually install electrical sockets in a circular room or to use real duct tape to hold things together that in reality simply don’t fit together the way the blueprints say they should.
Passi di: David Graeber. “Bullshit Jobs”. iBooks.
(it had been nice chatting with you)
and of course, everything noticed …
(Here are the minutes of the chat
Sunday …
Duration …)
no success, but a lengthy chat with I…, from Portugal, now in Ireland, chatting in German as my phone provider … and probably miserably paid .. but for the time being she likes it – Gach rud is fearr! – everything is good …
Some “tiny things” though — may be it is just a matter off paranoia …
  • There was another Apple-message popping up, from M… – USS – Unknown Supervising Subject ??? I…’s and P…’s big brother…?
  • “probably miserably paid” … – we surely have to think more about precarity and voluntariat – taking the latter term from piece written by Geoff Schullenberger in 2014 in the Jacobin. The point I want to make – as I did already on various occasions – is the following: as relevant as issues of social security, uncertainty are as consequence of a managerial strategy of undermining social rights, the really important thing seems to me the aggressive restructuration of the conditions and strategy of capital accumulation, characterised by the fact that “capitalism dissolutes itself” – something many would welcome, though the real and serious problem is the direction it currently does. A lengthy quote from the Jacobin-article may be allowed:

Coursera’s founders are no doubt aware that translation, no less than software engineering, is traditionally a paid activity done by trained professionals with specialized knowledge (particularly when it involves the kinds of technical vocabularies used in many college courses); otherwise, they would not have sought the considerable financial resources of the Carlos Slim Foundation to facilitate translations of its courses into Spanish in January.

But who needs Carlos Slim’s billions when you can have the courses translated free of charge by “a tight-knit community of committed individuals” enthusiastic about “helping millions of learners” and, well, helping Coursera expand its profit margin?

While joining Coursera’s “community” does not resemble a job in the “getting paid” aspect of things, it does require you to sign a “Translator Agreement,” which makes clear that the relationship between Coursera and members of the GTC is subject to employment law insofar as it ensures Coursera’s complete and perpetual ownership of value produced by employees — or rather, “volunteers” — but in every other respect, it is not a job, just a way to be nice.

  • While talking to I… – actually we had been really chatting a bit (the old Irish country boy  coming through), I was not only thinking about a possibly enthusiastic young women, who did not see any future in Portugal, exited to migrate to the country with forty shades of green, only lacking the sun (that is what she said); I was also thinking about her social security, health services, old-age pension etc. – at least most of those jobs ARE badly paid; and living in a country that refuses to accept the tax-money owed by her employer Apple (a random collection of reading: here and here and here and here), money that could well be used to develop a sustainable infrastructure instead of violently enforcing unsustainable growth)
  • Last, not least and not finally: as I… could not help me, sending me to a shop here in Łódź, I hoped … – la speranza è l’ultima cosa a morire – Nadzieja umiera ostatnia – the hope is the last thing to die …, well, being the last thing does not change ultimate death: they could not help me either, suggesting they could send it for repair and …

Most likely they will have a brief look and replace it with a new one – for 1699 Złoty, it is new, but coming without the box and without cable for charging and without warrantee, A new one in a box, comes with cable and warrantee …., we sell it for 2229 Złoty. that is for the 7, the 8, brand new with box and everything is 2979 Złoty

Everything = even this thingy-thing called Rip-Off, theatre, show

Taking this together – and adding some other things about that I will talk early December (being announced here on the 3rd of December) I suppose Graeber is wrong, saying “BS-jobs don’t pay”. In fact they, part of them do … until the bubble birst, again destroying human lives or this time opening for the 99% re-occupying public space …   under penalty of victory of V.

By Enrique Dans from Madrid, Spain – We are legionUploaded by SunOfErat, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=30480799


Precarity – It Isn’t about Employment, It Is the Economy, Stupid…

From the printer
Herrmann, Peter, 2018: Precarity – It Isn’t about Employment, It Is the Economy, Stupid…
No3 (209)/2018: 73-73
Издается с 1992 года Выходит 4 раза в год
DOI: 10.24411/ISSN. 1999-9836
(scroll for English abstract)

На прекаризацию обычно ссылаются как на проблему заня- тости и увеличения неуверенности и нестабильности су- ществования труда в качестве безопасной и предсказуемой основы социоэкономической безопасности – впоследствии мы обнаруживаем нестабильность включения, цельности и полномочий (и/или понимания). Намекая на лозунг «Это эко- номика, глупыш», который использовался в президентской компании Билла Клинтона в 1992 году, данный лозунг исполь- зован в заголовке публикуемой статьи: «Прекаризация – это не безработица, глупыш». Этот тезис звучит в таком объ- еме в обсуждении прекаризации как нестандартное понима- ние экономики, основанное на четырёх базовых принципах: денежная прибыль, экономический рост, конкуренция и заня- тость. Реальный вызов заключается в обращении к ограни- чениям данного базиса из четырёх частей, который преобла- дает в современной социологии, а именно методологический индивидуализм, методологический национализм, методоло- гический солюционизм и методологический презентизм. Объект исследования. Анализ неустойчивой занятости. Предмет исследования. Изменение методологических требований.

Цель исследования. Выявление недостатков существую- щей методологии социологии и перспективы альтернатив- ных направлений методологии.
Основные положения статьи. Определение метода пре- каризации в рамках меняющейся экономической формации.

Ключевые слова: неустойчивая занятость; методология со- циологии; экономика и общество; социальное качество; труд.


Precarity is commonly referred to as matter of employment and the increasing insecurity and instability of obtaining labour as secure and predictable foundation of socio-economic security – subsequently we find instability of inclusion, cohesiveness and empowerment (and/or perception). Alluding to the slogan «the economy, stupid» which had been guiding Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign in 1992, the slogan brought forward is here «Precarity – it isn’t employment, stupid». The thesis is that much of the debate on precarity is referring to a curtailed understanding of the economy, based in four main pillars: monetary gain, growth, competition and employment. The real challenge lies in addressing the limitations of the quadriga that dominates modern social science, namely methodological individualism, methodological nationalism, methodological solutionism and methodological presentism.

The Object of the Study: Analysing precarious employment
The Subject of the Study: Change of Methodological Requirements
The Purpose of the Study: Identifying flaws of existing methodology of social science and perspectives for alternatives The main Provisions of the Article: Locating precarity within the framework of a changing economic formation

Keywords: precarious employment; methodology of social science; economy and society; social quality; work.

Digitisation – Employment – and What?

The recording of the keynote presentation on Digitisation, Employment, and What? is already online. It is an attempt to socio-locate the challenge of today’s productivity puzzle and had been given on occasion of the symposium in Helsinki, organised by the Pellervo Society and the European Academy of Science and Arts, today on the 18th of September 2018.

Usual beginning is about “I do not know where to start” – all is so terribly confusing, a multitude of extremely different things.

There seems an obvious reply in the present case,

  • at least for digitisation – the apparent omnipresence of issues that are in one or another way about digital stuff – from the CD-player to the computer on four wheels
  • also for AI – the fact that it is not entirely clear is part of AI itself: there seems to be something that we, humankind, came up with and that is now “beyond our capacities” – the Frankenstein of Intellect if you want
  • and what seems to be equally clear: precarity in the vein of decreasing employment – another time we hear in different rhythm the old melody: there is not enough work anymore. But if we listen around we hear also something else – something we also heard for many times throughout history: There will never be an end, though there will be many changes.

Having said earlier that presentations are often started with something like “I do not know where to begin”, waiting for an Ariadne who may help. At present, my point is a different one, namely “I do not where it will end”. It is the famous Alice-in-Wonderland-situation, leading elsewhere to the conclusion “but I would not start from here”.

employment – precarity – or what

Precarity of Employment – Precarity of Capital Accumulation – Helplessness of Social Science

Thoughts from the Panel during the 28thEconomic Forum, Krynica-Zdroj, Polonia:
Flexible Employment: A way to a global chaos or to a new model of labour market stability?

a brief note, while already on the way back to Munich …

And the changed title is:

Panem et circenses – but who bakes the bread?

There is no reason to carry owls to Athens – they are there, and at least also one is in Krynica, in the park

– repeating what is well known, e.g. speaking about growth and employment and looking for ways for its enhancement. Opposing is often naively just about rejecting it without thinking about viable alternatives. The core of my contribution in Krynica can be summarised in the following table and a short para, trying to get a bit closer to the ground of things:

(Click to enlarge)

and in the one paragraph:

Precarity can only be meaningfully looked at, if understood as one of two sides of the accumulation regime: there we are dealing with employment issues, around generating value; and we are dealing with accumulation as realising value by combining factors of production and by recombining in different ways use value and exchange value. The one is a matter of production, the other of distribution and exchange. The problematique emanates from the fact of what we may call a “realisation paradox”: Though the market is needed to make surplus real, it is only the productive sphere that makes it possible. The outcome is the “destruction of time“ in the sphere of production, in order to be artificially extended in the sphere of consumption. It should not surprise if one feels reminded of the process of production which consumes raw material, i.e. destroys nature in order to establish artificial consumables.

– I would not suggest that capital/capital accumulation is in a more precarious situation than employment/the employment regime and social securitisation; however, there is good reason to look at (parts of) this under the heading “sex, drugs and crime”.

On the new title: such an event has something of exactly the Panem et Circenses, trying to make us forget that somebody has to bake the bread ….
Follow the link for the recording of some schort remarks.

Privatisation through the backdoor


on New Deal For Irish Families, states at the end of his article

Real choices for mothers and their partners requires a social investment state that supports families throughout their life course.

Of course, at first sight it is laudable but then …


Would it not be even more laudable and plausible to establish another reference as the words of Bertrand Russels who suggests in his In Praise of Idleness

that four hours’ work a day should entitle a man to the necessities and elementary comforts of life, and that the rest of his time should be his to use as he might see fit. It is an essential part of any such social system that education should be carried further than it usually is at present, and should aim, in part, at providing tastes which would enable a man to use leisure intelligently.


(l)eisure is essential to civilization, and in former times leisure for the few was only rendered possible by the labors of the many. But their labors were valuable, not because work is good, but because leisure is good. And with modern technique it would be possible to distribute leisure justly without injury to civilization.


Isn’t the rhetoric of “social investment”, seen in connection with targeting choice between family and career, not only wrong by way of reducing social policy on a labour market instrument, but also by way of misguiding the understanding of work? Isn’t it with such social investment perspective also established as private matter through the backdoor? Instead of paying for childcare privately the state (or possibly private public partnerships) ar paid in kind, through the work they do instead. Redistribution of wealth has to go hand in hand with redistribution of  work. Indeed, Nicolas Bueno in his short Introduction to the Human Economy makes a point that is surely interesting enough to overcome the idea of social investment as a social policy. He writes

Once human beings are delivered from being thought of as mere producers of economic value, a part of the time and energy that was before only dedicated to producing goods and services can be used in order to create something else. But what can individuals create with their human potential? Human benefits.


Vermeers “Woman in Blue” and the challenge to counter global hegemony of “stakeholder-democracy”

Of course, this “Davos of the East” as it is sometimes called,, and which I mentioned previously, is a special challenge as it is about an invitation to accept the rules of the hegemon, while it is for me the obligation to maintain the role of the anti-hegemeon while knowing that there is always the one option: being seen as fig-leaf or, and this is the serious problem, being absorbed: the anti-hegemonic position being reinterpreted and smoothly welded into the existing interpretation of things. – Dialectic of change one may say; there is no way to succeed but one has to try nevertheless and endlessly like Sisifo.

Part of the dialectic is of course to be in one way or another part of a group that is in line with widespread claims of a

representation of a post-nation state governance system

referring to Katerina Gladkova who is analysing Two years into the SDGs, asking if it is about neoliberalised development? What she says with respect of the SDG-strategy, finds its valid application in many of these “new institutions” – they are another

window-dressing exercise in democracy. The multistakeholder model dilutes boundaries of accountability and is not representative of the needs of the many; on the contrary, it serves the interests of the privileged minority advocating for the neoliberal world order.


I became aware of the task in an entirely unexpected context, namely when looking – together with Angela Maria Opel, as part of the guided tour “Love letters in the Painting of The Netherlands” – at Vermeer’s Women in Blue Reading a Letter, currently hosted in the Alte Pinakothek in Munich. A seemingly harm-, possibly meaningless painting of which the value is at first glance its beauty – and as well all know beauty is always contestable. And equally any interpretation of one painting is questionable because painters are children of their time and a single painting is only a piece of the jigsaw, composed by painter and time. The contemporary trinity of Dutch paintings can be seen in map, letter and necklace, frequently appearing not only in Vanmeer’s work. It is the trinity of the young and independent republic, the temptation by the glamorous jewellery, representing the ancient regime – and the dispute over it, now, as the weapons had been laid down. As such , reading the letter may have been not least a matter of political commitment, a question of resisting the temptations of short-sighted glamour and persisting in moving forward towards the new republic which represented at the very same time a new economic formation. Seen in this light, the review of the painting can also be seen as reflection of the close connection between the political and the personal: the urgency of reading, pushing aside the obvious temptation by vanity, the longing for true love standing against the superficial glamour, and this means also the possibility of rejection, the dispute about love going beyond the visible glamour – indeed, the rejection of such letter as depicted by Gerard ter Borch; indeed, not every gallant soldier had been a welcomed soldier.

On the other hand, the light, so typical for Vermeer, can be in some way as competent for the glamour of the pearls: the glamour of the outreaching trade of the new republic … – sending the loved one away for the explorations or receiving the news from abroad? – it had been the tension also of Gabriël Metsu, positioning the Man Writing a Letter and the Woman Reading a Letter side by side, all at a time when Claude Lorrain was painting the variations of the seaport (yes, I had been teaching on tis, in Budapest [economic thinking in six paintings])

An interesting detail may be that Vermeer actually used “real blue”, extracted from lapis lazuli – something for instance van Rijn could not afford /// …. . In other words, Vanmeer represented very much the upper class, most likely the new hegemons. This thought may be extended – the blue of the woman’s garment finds its continuation ih the cooer of the wall in front of her, where it still continues as shadow. As such it continues as well from the map – on may suggest that it is marking the seafarers nation, and it finds finally its strange settlement in the chair, covered with a material with of darker blue, kept tight with golden nubs. – Thus we would have the perfect tension: while the weapons are silent, the soldiers trying their fate in a peaceful “mission with their gallantries”, representing the old regime as much as the regime’s attempt to convince by jewelry and words, the new economic power provides a firm and guided resting point. The old and the new hegemons standing against each other, courting her, The Netherlands.

Sure, such interpretation is not least a matter of speculation, or turned positively: a matter of inspiration and reflection – the reflex of time and times, space and spaces.


– With this we return to the beginning, though we are not talking about any new republic, we surely talk about some far reaching changes. Understanding them, and understanding them in their deeper meaning we have to go beyond the reflection of extended stocktaking. Robert Cox actually outlined the challenge, writing about two different kinds of theory:

Beginning with its problematic, theory can serve two distinct purposes. One is a simple, direct response: to be a guide to help solve the problems posed within the terms of the particular perspective which was the point of departure. The other is more reflective upon the process of theorising itself: to become clearly aware of the perspective which gives rise to theorising, and its relation to other perspectives (to achieve a perspective on perspectives); and to open up the possibility of choosing a different valid perspective from which the problematic becomes one of creating an alternative world. Each of these purposes gives rise to a different kind of theory.

The first purpose gives rise to problem-solving theory. It takes the world as it finds it, with the prevailing social and power relationships and the institutions into which they are organised, as the given framework for action. …

The second purpose leads to critical theory. It is critical in the sense that it stands apart from the prevailing order of the world and asks how that order came about. Critical theory, unlike problem-solving theory, does not take institutions and social and power relations for granted but calls them into question by concerning itself with their origins and how and whether they might be in the process of changing.[1]

Indeed, then contributing to the debate on new technologies, unemployment and precarity, will be not least a matter of refraining from using those terms. It is more a matter of looking at the underlying overall goals and the framing contexts, the why behind the what. It is, in other words, about rejecting the mainstream principle, by Richard and Daniel Susskind[2]seen in the fact that professionals

are inclined to ask themselves what it is that they do today … and how they might make that service a bit quicker, cheaper, or better. Not often enough do professionals ask themselves the more fundamental question …” (37 f.)

which they understand as matter of defining the overall purpose of any undertaking we investigate. May be, being asked to talk about growth and security of employment, I should make socks statements that the need for growth is the real Sisyphos’ pain and security of employment a promised glamour of an ancient regime, similar to the jewelry that had been positioned as decoy against the new republic which may finally become at some stage a res publica, not worrying about privacy of data but about wrongly claimed publicness of GAFA.


[1]           Cox, Robert W., 1981: Social Forces, States and World Orders: Beyond International Relations Theory; in: Millennium – Journal of International Studies; 10/2; 126-155; here: 128; DOI: 10.1177/03058298810100020501

[2]           Susskind, Richard and Daniel, 2015: The Future of the Professions. How technology will transform the work of human experts; Oxford University Press

Employment – is that really the core issue?

In a brief presentation at ФГБОУ ВПО “РЭУ им. Г.В. Плеханова” (Plechanov University) in Moscow I addressed issues around employment, labour market policies and the structural challenges our economies and moreover societies face today by putting them into the perspective of critical and problem-solving research (Cox). This presentation is part of the research I outlined with the question: Is it really about Industry 4.0.?

In this context the recent publication of my article

may be as well of interest.


A fundamental methodological problem is the relevance of an antagonism of capitalism. This needs to be classified in light of the developmental stage of the means of production: far too little attention is paid to the contradictory character of individualization and socialization. This brings us to Karl Polányi’s main argument of disembedding. He also deals with a shift from the socially integrated (and dependent) individual to the utilitarian market citizen. The French regulationist theory offers a major step toward understanding new forms of societal embedding linked to this “new personality.” It will also allow us to move beyond the misleading juxtaposition or dichotomization of individualization-socialization. Investigating five major tensions, it ventilates the possible meaning of the digital revolution and the challenges for monitoring development. The main aim of the article, however, is to bring the economy back in and to go beyond the traditional duality between economics and politics.

Keywords: change, development, economics and social science, economy and society, social quality, theory of regulation, work


International Journal of Social Quality 6(1), Summer 2016: 87–106 ISSN: 1757-0344 (Print) • ISSN: 1757-0352 (Online) © Berghahn Books 2016 doi:10.3167/IJSQ.2016.060105


Precarity – The General Crisis of Capitalism

Sure, working conditions today cannot be compared with those of the 1800s, but it is surely worthwhile to have a closer look at the overall shift that is going on in our societies. This had been topic of my recent presentation

Precarity – An Issue of Changed Labour Market and Employment Patterns or of Changed Social Security Systems?

during the EuroMemo-meeting in London.

The problem is indeed that we are facing a crisis that is going much beyond the economic crisis. It is a systemic crisis in the true meaning – and as such it is also a crisis of and for the ruling class. Coming from here, the question is not primarily one that looks for the relevant actors today. nor is it primarily a matter of simple-to-provide policy recommendations – the latter easily looking at an exit of the crisis instead of being serious about overcoming of permanently reoccurring crises.

We should not forget that capitalism is fundamentally and permanently characterised by unemployment though this takes very different forms, of course. These are not least characterised by cyclical movements.

What is then new about precarity?

We may have a look at the very general pattern of societal development which is characterised by a movement towards inclusion. However, this secular process (inclusion as matter of increasing appropriation of the “external nature” by human being) is going hand in hand with avower-related division.

Moving away from the philosophical perspective and looking at the economic side of it we find an interesting development, now looking only at the development that characterises capitalism/industrialism: a first movement is best characterised as rationalisation: reducing the variable part of capital in favour of the constant part of capital, and namely the part of the fixed capital. With the further development of capitalist production – and that means as well: the further development of the means of production, we find a more or less fundamental change of the process of realisation: as much as financialisation means that part of the capital is realising itself outside (and seemingly independent) of the process of production we see that labour and work are somewhat merging – at least the borders are blurring. In other words: at this stage they are actually not pushed back within the process of realisation by rationalisation. Instead labour is pushed to an area that is outside of the process of realisation. It deserves empirical investigation if this is actually going hand in hand with another change of the structure of capital, namely a decrease of the fixed capital in favour of an increase of the circulating capital – looking at anecdotal evidence the movement is contradicting.

A surely dangerous development as long as the system of gaining and maintaining material resources is still based on the traditional patterns of life-long full-time employment. With relevant policy development s it may also be an opportunity in the course of moving beyond the fetters of the capitalist mode of production. A further question is then in the wider historical perspective if and in which way we can actually refer to a permanently extension of the process of realisation. Putting the question in a different way we reach with the changed mode of production the challenge to turn away from a pattern of exponential growth, moving at least towards considering different perspectives on the objectives of the economy of (global) society (see in this context also Herrmann, Peter, 2013: Methodological considerations for a Theory of Social Policy/Social Policy Research at the Interface of Political Economy and Politics of Social Order: 13f).
Obviously, policy challenges arise for the areas employment, taxation and income, social security and societal policies. And they have to be consider both, system-conform and also system-transcending options.

Related reflections can be found in the working paper here – an earlier version had been replaced.