Book Notes: Entreprecariat

Entreprecariat - Everyone is an entrepreneur. Nobody is safe by Silvio Lorusso
Read Oct 19, 2020 - Oct 21, 2020

In Enterprecariat, Silvio Larusso analyzes the predicament that many modern workers find themselves in, at the intersection of a string of insecure, temporary jobs, and the pressure to be constantly selling themselves as self-made entrepreneurs. The book reviews the pressures on these workers, such as atomized time, constant disruptive change, “always on” expectations, a race to the bottom when competing globally on freelancing platforms, and the imperative to be “your own brand”.

Although Larusso touches on what might be class characteristics of these workers, and asks what might unify them, the book reads like a series of observations which do not add up to a compelling framework or theory through which to understand this phenomenon. He doesn’t present much in the way of solutions or ways forward, other than some hand-waving in the direction of co-operativism and climate justice. The book makes some good points that I generally agree with, and it is illustrated with amusing memes and art, but I find myself a little tired of this kind of writing, which seems to be more interested in being clever than in concretely moving the situation forward.

Book Highlights

post-thing economy of virtual services and experiential consumerism that relies on the usually unpaid but occasionally monetized “frst-person industrial complex

No precarity without subjectivity. No precarity outside of the virtual: everything is possible, fuid, inside out, driven by political choices

According to the philosopher Byung-Chul Han, “[t]oday, we do not deem ourselves subjugated subjects, but rather projects: always refashioning and reinventing ourselves

Some theorists suggest reclaiming entrepreneurship, highlighting the cooperative efort on which it is based rather than the heroic individualism to which it is generally associated

This book investigates the efects of a mutation that went hand in hand with the eulogy of frst creativity and then innovation ratifed by policy makers: entrepreneurship, a mindset originating from a specifc practice, has turned into entrepreneurialism, a widespread system of values so deeply rooted as to be imperceptible

Entrepreneur or precarious worker? These are the terms of the cognitive dissonance experienced by new workers (not exclusively those whose work is predominantly cognitive), immersed as they are in a sort of collective hypnosis that turns existence into a shaky project in perennial start-up phase. Within this setting it is time itself that

The pressure of the entreprecariat does not just demand the constant upgrade of traditional professional skills, but it invades the realm of character, making good humour, optimism and cordiality a competitive advantage to cultivate through meditative practices and behavioural psychology in the form of mobile apps

we discover that, far from being free spirits fred up by entrepreneurial zeal, participants are often hesitant or even fragile individuals who choose to sufer the sadistic harassment of those really calling the shots: the investors

However for Drucker the emergence of an entrepreneurial economy is not enough, the real goal is to found an entrepreneurial society. In this perspective, the welfare state is an impediment and revolutions are a naive illusion

According to Timmons, the vocation of the entrepreneur goes hand in hand with the American dream as it allows for the realisation of the main aspiration of US citizens, the “cultural imperative” to work on their own

Compared to that of the receptionist, precarious workers in the gig economy have fewer apparent constraints and more fexibility: there is no apparent real-life boss to monitor the work, given that the checking systems are all on the smartphone. No formal space is shared with colleagues and relationships are mainly with an abstract entity

Bifo highlights a paradox: the erosion of the constraints of work dependence certainly does not create autonomy, but in fact a more subtle and anxious form of subjugation — an originally marginal condition, which is gradually afecting an increasingly large part of the population

Berardi coined the term “cognitariat”: if the proletariats’ only property was their ofspring, for the cognitarian it becomes the totality of their own cognitive faculties, expressed through language and creativity

Cognitarians are alienated from their main product, language, and from their peers, due to de-territorialisation and discontinuities that prevent them from implementing permanent forms of social organisation

But what does it mean to risk? It often means taking on types of structural difculty as if they were the result of personal choices, thus transferring the responsibilities of institutions to individuals

British economist Guy Standing, who worked for over thirty years at the International Labour Organization, claims that the precariat is not yet a class-for-itself, but a class-in-the-making, with its social risks, including the emergence of waves of hatred and violence and an escalation of the far right

Precarious workers are divided between those who feel they’re a victim of a change to which they are subjected, and those who feel they are interpreting a cultural and institutional renewal moving in a diferent direction

To heighten frustration, there is the awareness of being collectively indispensable but individually disposable

the issue of precarity seems to be linked not only to work but also to the need to build and maintain one’s identity

The precariat’s biggest problem, that of creating a ‘we’, clashes with the overwhelming entrepreneurial imperative to produce, afrm and manage a ‘me

This is what anthropologist Ilana Gershon calls the “quitting economy”: an economy based, if one is lucky, on the possibility of moving freely or semi-freely between one job and another

Whereas by entrepreneurship we mean the practice of starting and managing a business through a certain amount of risk, entrepreneurialism corresponds instead to a value system reinforced by a colonisation of language happening within the media discourse and its individual internalisation

Not only does entrepreneurialism deny and diminish precarious discomfort, but it does not admit its reasons: there is nothing to fear, risk is good for you

What distinguishes the current professional (and therefore existential) impasse is a generalised cognitive dissonance. A condition similar to what Rafaele Alberto Ventura calls “class dysphoria”

In this sense, entreprecarity is a somewhat privileged condition because only a minority of precarious workers are allowed to have real entrepreneurial or auto-entrepreneurial ambitions

The entreprecariat brand is one thing and its opposite, it embodies the social and individual contradictions determined by the clash between precarity and entrepreneurialism

There is always something more important to do and this causes anxiety and guilt

Broadening the view, the concept of procrastination can be seen as the product of a rationalistic approach that privileges efciency: without the emphasis on personal productivity, the harmfulness of procrastination partially dissolves

It would seem that personal productivity has become an aesthetic form, the purpose of which is to create an impression of self-control, and to provoke “the pleasure entertained in the fantasy that time can be managed”, as Melissa Gregg puts it

today, being wealthy does not mean having more free time, but being more overburdened

Digital devices did not just bring the ofce into our homes, bags and pockets, they also multiplied the types of tasks we have to do. Tasks like marketing and PR for ourselves and our products, management of our weekly or monthly agenda, organisation of meetings, setting of passwords and so on. Once all this peripheral work is done, the real work can fnally begin. We are hyperemployed

In the case of coworking, what kind of relationship is it? Sociologist Adam Arvidsson speaks of “weak solidarity”, a kind of solidarity at the service of the market

It could be said that sociality and cooperation are the home décor of coworking

As the mobile ofce iconically shows, adapting means isolating oneself: protecting oneself from the outside world while interfacing with other human beings through the mediation of communication channels

We are at the dawn of a new era of ofce nostalgia, which feeds on a romantic idea of the cubicle, of the casual chat at the cofee machine which strengthen complicity between colleagues

The key word is passion, which not by chance also means pain: far from being a natural disposition, passion requires efort, discipline and therefore sufering

Niceness lies in the sphere of afability and cordiality. Niceness helps to smooth the way between individuals, it is less formal than politeness but still respectful. At the same time, it expresses enthusiasm and passion, without showing any sense of rivalry. Niceness hides the strategic competitiveness underlying the system of entrepreneurial values behind a veil of bland courtesy (originally ‘nice’ meant silly or unaware

It is a question, now urgent, that has accompanied us on our discouraging journey through digital services that foster competitiveness, coordinate pyramid schemes of delegated micro-work and create value out of the misfortunes of their users. The question that arose during this journey is, to put it simply, this: how do we get out of it?

Any individual solution results in self-help and therefore in mere competitive advantage

Perhaps we need to open up to anxiety, fear and more generally to negativity in order to orient ourselves in change without generating repression

Impotence does not even signify passivity because it means active recognition of vacuums of individual power; it is an invitation to cooperation and mutuality. Impotence implies a truce, it means setting down the weapons of competitiveness and strategic action

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