The Industry of Living
Architecture, precarity and freelancing.
Published in Silvia Colmenares and Federico Soriano (ed.). Critic|all Madrid:DPA-Prints, Departamento de Proyectos ETSAM UPM
Precariousness and flexibility of labour are generally considered the anathema of post-Fordist economy, a perverse system which eroded the traditional patterns of salaried employment with an endless proliferation of informal, part-time, project-based internships and a-typical jobs. Curiously, already in 1918, in his renown lecture Science as a Vocation, Max Weber defined as prekär the particular condition of the young German scholars wishing to undertake the academic career.
However, according to Weber precisely that status of uncertainty constituted a favourable character of the German university system, which on one side condemned researchers to unpaid workloads for short-term contracts while, on the other, it ensured an incredible dynamism of research and a continuous turnover of the educational apparatus, avoiding any canonisation of knowledge into reproducible techniques. Precarity was thus considered part of the normal professional academic curriculum, coinciding with the necessary period of preparation to achieve a tenure position: a sort of traineeship limbo before the stability of professorship.
Almost one century after Weber’s lecture, the idea of precarity is still conceived as an exception versus the norm of employment and therefore nostalgically opposed to a yearned permanent job and its welfare guarantees. Nevertheless, with the collapse of the Fordist economy, the dissolution of the nation-states and the privatisation of many public services that undermined the very core of the salaried system, it seems that what Weber defined as a “transitional phase” has become today the primary and ubiquitous condition of employment, diffused not only within academies but in all fields of production and at all professional levels.
We could thus consider precarity the norm of labour market rather than its exception, and to regret older forms of employment or wishing a return to previous modes of production might cause only dangerous reactionary or populist complaints. Instead, a strategy of opposition should delve into the very conditions of precarity, trying to understand its logic and juridical principles in order to revert its negative effects, looking perhaps at those workers who made of precariousness their form of life and who consciously accepted to shape their existences through discontinuous and hybrid employments.