by Isabell Lorey
(…) What this then means for the increasingly impossible demarcations between public and private as well as between production and reproduction, I would like to develop in the following discussion, by taking the example of specific cultural producers, i.e. those on whom precarious living and working conditions are not only imposed, but who actively desire them and above all understand them as a free and autonomous decision.
The virtuosos I refer to in what follows are by no means restricted to the artistic field. They can include academics or media representatives, for example. They are engaged in extremely diverse, unequally paid project activities and fee-paying jobs, and consider themselves entirely critical of society. Sometimes they don’t want a steady job at all; sometimes they know it’s something they can only dream about. Yet those cultural producers to whom I refer here start from the assumption that they have chosen their living and working conditions themselves, precisely to ensure that they develop the essence of their being to the maximum in a relatively free and autonomous manner. In the case of such virtuosos, I refer to self-precarization.
The interpellation to self-precarization belongs to an elementary governing technique of modern societies and is not an entirely new neo-liberal or post-Fordist phenomenon. Already, with the demand to orient oneself towards the normal as part of the modern trend, everyone had to develop a relationship with the self, to control one’s own body, one’s own life by regulating and thus controlling oneself. Inseparable from this self-conduct are ideas of actuality. Thus, for example, we still believe that the effect of power relations is the very essence of ourselves, our truth, our own actual core. This normalizing self-regulation is based on an imagined coherence, unity and wholeness, which can be traced back to the construction of a male, white, bourgeois subject. Coherence, once again, is one of the prerequisites for the modern, sovereign subject. These imagined, inner, natural ‘truths’, these constructions of actuality still foster ideas of being able or having to shape one’s life freely and autonomously, and according to one’s own decisions. These types of power relations are therefore not easy to discern since they often appear as a free decision of one’s own, as a personal insight and then trigger the desire to ask: “Who am I?” or “How can I fulfil myself?”. The concept of “personal responsibility”, so commonly used in the course of neo-liberal restructuring, only operates above this old liberal technique of self-regulation.
Basically, governmental self-regulation, this sovereignty at the subject level, takes place in an apparent paradox since this modern self-regulation means both subjugation and empowerment. Only in this ambivalent structure of subjectivation that – in all its diversity in the individual – was fundamental both in private as well as in the public sphere, both in the family and in the factory or in politics, only in this paradoxical subjectivation does the governability of the modern subject occur. The freedom to shape one’s own life, however, was an essential constitutive element of this supposed paradox between regulation and empowerment.
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