Precariousness of Knowledge Workers

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  • CFP: Special issue: The Precariousness of Knowledge Workers: hybridisation, marketisation and subjectification in global value chains. Volume 10 No 2 of Work Organisation, Labour & Globalisation


"The aim of this Special Issue is to develop a critical discussion on knowledge workers' conditions and subjectivities in the new global division of labour.

We welcome paper submissions from diverse theoretical and methodological perspectives on the following themes:

  • representations and experiences of knowledge workers in the global tertiarised societies;
  • mechanisms of subjectivation and strategies to seek to avoid and to resist them;
  • risks of precariousness and proletarisation that might derive from a professionalisation driven by global and glocal markets;
  • knowledge workers' collective practices, with particular attention to new forms of collaboration, sociality and social features of welfare and their limitations and potentialities.

The notion of 'knowledge worker' has become the focus of a rich range of debates in a variety of scientific approaches and disciplines, from sociology to economics, from political science to neomarxism, all offering their own particular conceptual tools and perspectives.Unlike the traditional professions that were consolidated in the last century, 21st knowledge work is undergoing a process of hybridisation. With a growing variety of different types of work contract, knowledge workers constitute a type of professional work that is increasingly exposed to the logic of the market and are increasingly required to auto-activate their own resources, empathy and individual autonomy (Gorz, 2003; Morini, Fumagalli, 2010). The ambivalences embedded in these forms of production – in which new forms of exploitation and control and new sense constructions coexist at the same time (Rullani, 2004; Bologna, 2011) – show the double face of contemporary capitalism, which urges subjects to put their own lives into production but also leaves room for passion and creative capacities (Boltansky, Chiappello, 1999; Marazzi, 2010; Karppi et al., 2014). Following this perspective, global capitalism can continue to accumulate but can also overflow, spreading pervasivelyr through different (technological) devices, while simultaneously opening up a multitude of times and spaces (Thrift, 2005) in which subjects struggle to find their position.

In knowledge based industries, work is circumscribed by the cognitive frames of creativity the imagery of subjects, but simultaenously demands adaptability, in a context in which deregulation and individualisation are now normal. The ethics of self-activation are therefore inextricably intertwined with the demands of intensification, neostandardisation and self-commodification. In this framework, the organisation of knowledge work is increasingly subordinated to the disciplines imposed by global production chains (Berger, 2008; Huws, 2014) leading not only to the intension of work and the transformation of the capabilities required of workers, but also to the creation of new forms of affective labour (Hochschild, 1983; Hardt, 1999; Hesmondhalgh, Baker, 2008) which blur the boundaries of work (Gill, Pratt, 2008; McRobbie, 2011)."

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