From the Precariat to the Multitude

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* Article: Trott, Ben (2013) “From the Precariat to the Multitude.” Global Discourse: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Current Affairs and Applied Contemporary Thought, Vol. 3, Issue 3-4 pp.406-425, 2014

URL = http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/23269995.2013.876714#

Abstract

"This paper situates Guy Standing’s recent work on ‘the Precariat’ within a broader body of literature exploring processes of ‘precarisation’, at work and across the social field. It sets out the differential distribution of ‘precarity’ (including on the basis of gender, geography, status and sector) resulting from transformations in labour and the political economy, the rollback of social democracy and of ‘industrial citizenship’ (where these existed), as well as from processes of globalisation. The paper argues that, like many other works, Standing’s book, The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class, de-couples its discussion of precarious, neoliberal labour and life from the explicitly utopian agenda of radical reform it ultimately proposes. Drawing on Kathi Weeks’ engagement with Ernst Bloch’s work, the paper suggest Standing’s utopianism remains abstract, detached from an analysis of the social forces, movements and struggles that might bring it into being. It makes use of Antonio Negri’s distinctive, heterodox interpretation of V.I. Lenin to provide a framework for theorising how concrete utopian projects of radical political transformation – which is to say, ‘realist’ or materialist ones – are extrapolated out of spontaneous struggles; the predominant ‘will’, ethics and structures of which are always largely determined by the social, political and economic context from which they emerge. It is shown how, on the basis of this approach, Negri (in his collaboration with Michael Hardt) has constructed the notion of ‘multitude’ as a potential model for political organisation today – apposite to the precarious reality described by Standing and others. They draw on Baruch Spinoza’s political philosophy – often counterposing it to that of Thomas Hobbes – to affirm the capacity for common political action and decision despite heterogeneity, and to ground political organisation in social conflict rather than contract. Finally, drawing on Alain Badiou’s distinction between ‘immediate’ and ‘historical uprisings’, the paper explores the degree to which a number of contemporary movements and struggles might have tentatively achieved what he calls ‘qualitative extension’ – establishing connections and a ground for common action across social spaces and strata – potentially setting in motion enduring projects of political organisation and constitution that resemble the multitude model."