The dark side of flexibility

Flexibility and precariousness have for years occupied a prominent place in the publishing world not only in socio-political non-fiction but also in fiction and the films, songs and exhibitions they represent grow less and less atypical forms of worka phenomenon that cannot fail to question its own aesthetics [1]. Thus, scrolling through the list of editorial news of recent years, one of the recurring themes is precisely the precariousness. It stands out on the covers of Einaudi, Feltrinelli, Mondadori, Isbn, Rizzoli, if it is a novel. Di Laterza, Il Mulino, Il Saggiatore, Bollati Boringhieri if it is an essay on the labor market [2].

Although many of these works are cultural industry products – which now literally applies the just in time where demand conditions the production process and thus the demand for “materials” on precariousness is proportional to the growth of fixed-term jobs — new forms of work organization have marked the collective imagination, both to be perceived as phenomena of customs with their own aesthetics, and they have changed the way we “feel” ourselves and the world around us, to the point of helping to broaden and reconfigure the horizon and state of perception and much as to extend the limits of contemporary aesthetics [3]. In particular, the doubts and gaps in perspective that can cause in each individual an existence lived intermittently, to what extent they redefine current changes in sensitivity and imagination?

This obviously appears in relation to developments in the aesthetics of existence and biopolitics, based on Foucault’s reflection [4] and Deleuze. Starting from the latter in their different but parallel paths, of transgressive thought, he developed a conception of the subject that is constituted as nomadic, plural, flexible and fragmentary and that seems, in fact, the most appropriate to describe the ego of a “liquid” society [5]in which the uncertainty of the world of work tends to extend to the whole existential sphere.

With the transition from model of the permanent position of the Fordist firm of the old capitalist world – a little protective of the employee [6] – the uncertain horizon of the precarious is being replaced by Fragmentary archipelago of life experiences in the linear development of the perception of one’s own experience through the “career” of a “normal” worker of classical capitalism. Once upon a time there was one routine work, which not only had depressing drawbacks. He instilled security, determined loyalty to the company itself and loyalty to colleagues and superiors, guaranteed a predictable career, often based only on seniority, allowed for long-term projects.

On the contrary, insecurity represents to such an extent the condition of those who no longer have a permanent job, but a flexible, or precarious, job that ours has been called the “risk society” [7] and the subjectivity that inhabits it has several features in common with the disintegrated ego of postmodern Richard Sennett pointed out [8]. The staging of global risk gives rise to a production and social construction of reality, to the new way of staging and organizing, living and shaping society in reference to the present of the future. Risk thus becomes the cause and means of the reconfiguration of society and is closely tied to the new forms of classification, interpretation, and organization of our daily lives. The flexible worker, devoid of class consciousness, tends to look with disgust at those who follow the same “path” throughout their existence and cannot get involved with the new rules and the new risks they entail. Risk is about to become a massive need. In the modern culture of risk, lost movements are considered signs of failure and stability almost feels like death in life. This is because our social and political scenario is experienced as a reflection e interpreted according to categories of “old” and “new” that seem to have replaced the right / wrong, useful / harmful dichotomy on which social analysis should be based.. According to the dominant ideology, functional to the interests of the ruling classes, the flexibility of work organization would open the worker the opportunity to become an “entrepreneur of himself,” outside the standardized schemes of the Fordist model. There routine of the father’s work (usually perceived with all its implications of alienation) made it possible to build a confidence in oneself and in society that today’s precarious people do not possess and cannot even pass on to their children: models of loyalty and dedication are in fact opposed. with the superficiality of links with others and with the workplace that characterizes new forms of sociality.

This precarious condition, well represented by the flow that drags it through and does not solidify anything Bauman speaks of, while jeopardizing the possibility of planning for the future, would leave individuals the opportunity to change your condition [9]. Hence Bauman’s suggestion of life that can be produced and represented as a work of art, or as an ever-renewing creation. If you think that the world can be changed with our actions and that we can, in turn, change with that, it means that we think we are artists who know how to create and shape the world and themselves. [10]. Here, then, is the art of life, which, like any art, is also suffering, pain, search, renunciation, pleasure. “Each of us is an artist of his life: he knows it or not (…). Being an artist means giving form and structure to what would otherwise be formless and indefinite. It means manipulating probabilities. It means imposing an “order” on what would otherwise be “chaos.” [11] According to this optimistic interpretation of the world of flexibility, one can be happy until one loses hope of being happy in the future and this is possible provided one has a number of new opportunities and beginnings in quick succession, the prospect of ‘a chain. .infinite number of outputs [12].

This conception is part of a more general ongoing trend of the dominant ideology, which points to a real one aestheticization of flexibility, as a synonym for elasticity in the face of the rigidity of a state and bureaucratic economy. So communication main current It sells flexibility as new, as an opportunity through which workers would develop their professionalism and be able to adapt to the ever-changing needs of the labor market, fleeing the danger of technological unemployment. So much so that flexibility has become a stubbornly defended watchword by the media (regime) and employers, or rather by exploiters, who decline it in all its forms. Like this flexibility is presented as the obligatory password within a modern economic system. To the point that, according to a dominant ideology until a few years ago, the flexibility of work would represent the new that is advancing; from being an instrument of cost rationalization, it has been elevated to the fetish of a new golden age. In this way, flexibility and precariousness have entered the collective imagination as the destiny that would await those who enter the world of work today. This has produced undoubted advantages in general for those who perform creative and decision-making tasks, but it has become a precariousness for many others.

On the other hand, the chances of success that flexibility would have opened up are increasingly reflected in a life full of anxieties and uncertainties.. Thus, flexibility has made the future prospects of many workers uncertain, negatively affecting their personality and affections. Relationships of “low commitment” and precarious tendencies develop. These “Temporary relationships” they refer to the possession of objects, but not only: they refer to the current culture of relationships, accentuating the feeling of uncertainty as a whole. In fact, the feeling of precariousness in relationships is a source of insecurity and one has a longing for lasting feelings. The repercussions that flexibility and even more precariousness have on experience are therefore not always positive as we would like to suggest.


[1] In terms of films, books and songs on the subject, we limit ourselves to remembering the main pioneering works such as The second precarious gospel by Stefano Obino in cinema, the book San Precario works for us by Accornero Aris, the song by Daniele Silvestri 1000 euros a month.

[2] Among the essays we limit ourselves to mention: Gallino, L., The human cost of flexibilityLaterza, Bari-Roma 2005.

[3] Far beyond the obvious need for contemporary aesthetics to be flexible in order to take into account the experimental needs of current artistic production.

[4] The aesthetics of existence proposed by Foucault as self-creation through the exercise of criticism and care, far from being an expression of individualism, is in fact an action of high ethical and political value, as it calls to autonomy and self-determination, to a plural, dynamic and heterogeneous friendship, to a non-totalizing political action, in the decision to experiment with new modes of action, different intersubjective relations capable of short-circuiting the places of the law, the norm and habit.

[5] An era born of a postmodernity that tends to reduce citizens to consumers and, dismantling all certainty, leads to a life liquid increasingly frantic and subject to the need to adapt to the majority to avoid exclusion from the group. The fascinating power of this message is obvious, which, above all, does not create compromises because, when we no longer like a product, it can be safely removed, in fact it is advisable to replace it quickly.

[6] In fact, with the big with Taylor’s big factory, fatigue reduction material it is transformed into an increase in the profits of capital, and the reduction of labor-time (on account of the substitution of human activity for machines) causes the disqualified labor to parade through the necessarily alternating “production needs,” or rigid, imposed by the assembly line. .

[7] Beck, USA, Risikogesellschaft: Auf dem Weg in eine andere Moderne [1986], Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt aM, trad. This., The risk society. Towards a second modernityCarocci, Rome 2000.

[8] See Sennett, R., Character corrosion. The personal consequences of labor in the new capitalism, Norton, New York 1998, trad. this., The flexible man. The consequences of the new capitalism on personal lifeFeltrinelli, Milan 1999.

[9] Zygmunt Bauman is convinced of his The art of life, Polity Press, Cambridge, trad. this., The art of lifeLaterza, Rome-Bari 2009.

[10] The “art of living” would mean different things to those of the old or new generation, but everyone would be an artist and no one could do without art.

[11] Bauman, Z., op. cit., p. 172.

[12] Typical is the case of Claudio, the protagonist of The generation of a thousand euros that he does not give up enjoying the beauty of life and considers his precarious condition not as a limitation, but as a stimulus to react and find new perspectives every day. history of all people like Claudio, who today constitute a real generation: that of the “Milleuristi” (or “G1000”). People who, even with 1,000 euros a month – curling up – would still be waiting for a better and less uncertain future.

25/06/2022 | Copyleft © All material is freely reproducible and only the source must be mentioned.


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