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Accepted Paper:

Learning to Live with Uncertainty: Young Adults in Barcelona between Subjection and Resistance to Precarity  


Corinne Schwaller (University of Bern)

Paper short abstract:

Focussing on practices and attitudes of young adults, this paper explores how both material needs and moral values ascribed to work contribute to perpetuating labour exploitation. Yet, enduring experiences of precarity also bear an unruly potential to question the normativity of paid work.

Paper long abstract:

Over the past decade, the precarisation of employment in Spain has accelerated and intensified and has complicated the access to living wages, employment-based social security, and a 'middle-class lifestyle' for many people. This paper examines the shifting forms and meanings of work in (post-)crisis Spain through the experiences and narratives of highly educated young adults in Barcelona. Besides their continuous struggles to make ends meet, they are also challenged to find ways of adapting to, and moving within, a social environment where socially inculcated normative expectations of work and life are no longer (fully) accessible to them. I show that in a context of increasing employment precariousness, paid work does not lose its importance when it comes to attributing social value and personal autonomy to the individual. Despite the exploitative and degrading working conditions, gainful employment still remains the principal and preferred means of livelihood of my research participants. At the same time, however, the precarious situation in the labour market stimulates them to challenge socially inculcated values and taken-for-granted aspirations. Learning to live with permanent uncertainty, for them, not only means to subject themselves to the adverse structural conditions, but also to learn how to refuse being constantly afraid of an uncertain future. I explore their deliberate efforts to withstand feelings of constant anxiety as a potential starting point for questioning the normativity of paid work and for decentring wage labour as both a central institution and a core moral value of contemporary societies.

Panel P130a
Contexts and experiences of precariousness: discourses, practices and emotions