Governmental Precarization

by Isabell Lorey

The precarious represents both the condition and the effect of domination and security in historically different ways. In the broadest sense, it can be described as insecurity and vulnerability, as uncertainty and endangerment. The counterpart of the precarious is usually protection, political and social immunization against everything recognized as endangerment.[1] Currently, however, the precarious and the immune are no longer only in a relation of opposites in postfordist societies, but rather more and more also in a relation of overlapping, tending, in fact, to become indistinguishable. The foundation for this development is that precarization in neoliberalism is no longer perceived as a phenomenon of “exception”, but is instead in the midst of a process of normalization, which enables governing through insecurity. To unfold these theses, I would like to distinguish three dimensions of the precarious: precariousness, precarity, and governmental precarization.

Precariousness designates – and here I concur with Judith Butler’s ideas – an ontological dimension of life and bodies. Precariousness does not denote an anthropological constant, no trans-historical state of being human, but rather a condition proper to both human and non-human living beings. Most of all, however, precariousness is not something individual and nothing that exists “in itself” in a philosophical sense; it is always relational and therefore a socio-ontological “being-with” in the tradition of Nancy,[2] with other precarious lives. Precariousness denotes the dimension of an existential common of living beings; it involves an ineluctable endangerment of bodies that cannot be prevented, not only because they are mortal, but also specifically because they are social. Precariousness as precarious “being with” is a condition of every life, which is evident in historically and geographically very different variations.

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