The nature of work in/security: surfing precarious work in London’s contingent economy

Jankowski, Krzysztof Z. (2023) The nature of work in/security: surfing precarious work in London’s contingent economy. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Precarity, precariousness and precarious work have, in recent years, become central to sociological discussions of youth, employment and urban life. In existing debate, precarity is typically described in a split nature, as a form of work and a condition. Through ethnographic investigation, this thesis intimately investigates this relationship, arguing that precarious work is best thought of as a quality of all work, and precariousness needs to be re-evaluated in this light. These themes are developed using the term ‘in/security’, which draws attention to the security and insecurity inherent to the balance that precarity represents.

Empirically, this project examines the openings, challenges and strategies of those who have come to work in London’s precarious job market. Based on auto/ethnographic fieldwork and twenty interviews with denizens of the London precarious job market, the thesis argues for a condition of ‘surfing’ between jobs as a fairly consistent way of life. When people cannot find permanent work, or need work quickly, precarious jobs represent ‘fast work’ that is available with little effort. These however are rarely full jobs, but instead are conceived of in the thesis as empty places -a contingent need in the production line or service programme of the enterprise. Workers come to fill in these empty places, but routinely struggle to break out of the borders of the contingent need. As such, they are eventually let go or resign themselves without having altered their original circumstance that led them into precarious work in the first place. This leads to moving from empty place to empty place, gaining little from each. Workers may interrupt that flow with years-long stints in single jobs, or breaking out into industries with better pay or working conditions, but the surfing of precarious work can reinstate itself like a bad habit. In this recurring experience, the nature of precarity in contemporary market-driven economies like the UK is identified, achieving an equilibrium of what insecure options are available.

The core contribution of the thesis is to view precarity not as a form of work or condition but instead as a contingent equilibrium of tenure insecurity, working conditions and personal fulfilment. In being able to smooth out the insecurities of any single job, workers are able to achieve a state of working that they deem preferable to the available permanent work. In this manner precarious workers are at once caught in the pragmatic advantages of precarious work and the limitations and insecurity which comes with it. Work-induced precarity is as much supported by what little securities precarious work provides as it is by what uncertainties are introduced. This changes what questions sociologists ask of precarity. Instead of asking who is precarious or not, or what job is precarious, the question becomes who is allowed to surf and how? Furthermore, who is made to stop in a job that is, while the best they can find, otherwise unattractive? The contribution of this study then is to give texture to precarity in a manner that raises new questions while giving a sounder conceptual foundation.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
Colleges/Schools: College of Social Sciences > School of Social and Political Sciences > Sociology Anthropology and Applied Social Sciences
Supervisor's Name: Fraser, Professor Alistair and Dawson, Professor Matt
Date of Award: 2023
Depositing User: Theses Team
Unique ID: glathesis:2023-83916
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 07 Nov 2023 11:55
Last Modified: 07 Nov 2023 11:57
Thesis DOI: 10.5525/gla.thesis.83916

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