Precarité • 21 May 2008


If you would be pungent, be brief; for it is with words as with sunbeams—the more they are condensed, the deeper they burn.   

-Robert Southey

My brother’s first installation piece was a humungus white vaguely-sexual paper lamp pieced together with papier-mache and maverick wiring chops. It was terrible and mesmerizing and completely improbable, and may still glow in a young people’s art collective in the San Juan Islands.

You’d walk in on it, in a room, and feel like you were accidenting on something not decent and not at all legal, this ramshackle orb somehow suspended and glowing and strangely not yet setting fire to itself.

That’s when the artist’s favorite word was awkward.

The piece is named Precarious.

Now I study the sociology of work and labor, and the French labor economists are only lefties I can find in a discipline full of people who have forgotten that markets foster exploitation and run on inequality (rather than being just amazing coordinating mechanisms, which they are also). Their word for life on the margins: precarité. Check it out

EPB is precarious.

Not strength.




  • Posted 21 May 2008 at 11:14 pm | #

    On which more tomorrow. I’m back to writing about something by just writing about how I’m going to write about it. Heh.

  • Posted 22 May 2008 at 12:46 am | #

    Ohh, so THAT is what my whole economic existence since about 2004 is called.

    You’re so owl when you’re self-reflexive about your self-reflection. 🙂

  • Posted 22 May 2008 at 12:51 am | #

    No wonder you’re in to rock climbing and arm balances. All part of life on the edge.

    The reflexivity is interesting, if obnoxious. My favorite sociologist recently said to me, over his cognac, “Whatever you can do I can do meta.” Nice.

  • es&j
    Posted 22 May 2008 at 12:56 am | #

    Is the irony of laboring on the sociology of human labor ever lost on the sociologist? Who studies them?

    The levels of cortisol in the chronically precarious would be an interesting biological exploration. They are most likely elevated. There is a great series on PBS “Unatural Causes” that speaks to the health affects of inequality. Take home: even after you factor in ALL the lifestyle choices (diet, smoking, drinking, etc) people make the number one correlate to longevity and health is socioeconomic status. So being whiter and richer is the key to optimizing personal health in the U.S. Perhaps a best a new health best seller here: “The Longevity Secret: Get Rich, White and Powerful.”

  • Posted 22 May 2008 at 1:37 am | #

    haha, life on the edge: true dat. Note, however, that I don’t lead climb: one 20-foot whipper off a ceiling cured me of that pretty well.

    About socioeconomic status: have you noticed how BIZARRE the s-e status of academics can get? I offer myself as an example. I have a PhD, I’ve been in school since I was 5, I’m white as the day is long, and I made less than $10,000 last tax year; in fact, I only got 300 in the “incentive” that just happened. My loan creditors estimate that I’ll be paying them a thousand bucks a month until I’m 70. SEVENTY. Hilarious.

  • Posted 22 May 2008 at 1:51 am | #

    ESJ, a lot of demographers in my dep’t work on health outcomes. The chances of dying of certain diseases increases insanely if you are male and black. Most of this work illustrates the ways America is stratified by race and class, and how healthcare is almost the very index of that stratification since it is so hard to get and its quality is so variable.

    I will watch this doc—might be a great teaching tool.

    Who will study the academics? Our situation is paradoxical: tons of cultural and often social capital, VERY LITTLE money capital. Is this the good life? We earn little money, but most of what we do in academia feeds back in to our personal intellects and our “work” on some level. Which one can not say about many forms of wage labor. My situation is strange because, unlike many other grads in this school (grads whose families paid for a boutique BA and will subsidize the PhD if necessary), I do not come from an elite background. I am actually doing this hilarously underpaid thing, on some basic level, because it increases my access to “upper class” living like not even finance or lawyering could. Which fits perfectly with the analysis my hero Pierre Bourdieu (have I mentioned him lately?) makes in The State Nobility.

    Not that I’m without cortisol. 🙂

  • R
    Posted 22 May 2008 at 3:46 am | #

    I’ve heard really good things about that documentary from sociologists who study inequality and health outcomes. They’re already using it for teaching. I should see it.

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