A little help from my friends - the momentary solidarities of precarious living
(Queen Mary University of London)
Paper short abstract:
This paper challenges narratives of neoliberal anomie by showing how precarity may open spaces of casual help, where interest blends with affect, and self-centred action with momentary solidarities.
Paper long abstract:
This paper proposes a theory of casual help. Drawing on my doctoral fieldwork with Romanian migrants in London, whom I observed navigating the city's gig economy and informal housing market by mobilising their networks of conationals, I show here how precarity can act as a force of mutual assistance. Casting a critical look at social theories which posited an age of neoliberal anomie, I argue that we can hardly view the waning of post-war solidarities as a complete waning of care. Rather than ushering in a "death of the we", as Richard Sennett and Zygmunt Bauman both fatalistically posit, I show how from subletting from a friend, in order to bypass arresting rents, to finding clients through family, when working on self-employed status, precarity can create a myriad spaces of need, and of thus of help. To draw attention to these moments of casual help is not to romanticise the weapons of the weak, or to discount the risks of devolving social security from state to personal connections. What I propose, rather, is an inquiry into the sociality of precarity which takes seriously the unstable solidarities it generates. An inquiry which does not discount expressions of care for their momentariness, but takes seriously the mixing of interest and affect. It is by focusing on these expressions of casual help that, I conclude, we may gauge the potential for resistance, and mount new critiques against the political economic conditions which have turned precarity into the order of the day.
Beyond precarity: the politics of hope, care, and solidarity under conditions of unsettling (im)mobility [Anthropology of Labour Network]