Monday 11 April 2011

Underemployment and maintaining readiness

The world of underemployment means that the primary regulation of the relationship between workers and work is no longer maintained by employers. It must be actively maintained by individuals. For individuals this means a greater sense of insecurity and anxiety as they continually have to consider the possibility that their current employment might cease.

I think that between a worker and their work there is a kind of property relation. That means that the practices that one becomes accustomed to in employment become part of one's identity. The loss of an employment is therefore a threat to identity. Flexibility brought about through underemployment therefore can entail uncertainty and risk about ones own identity.

In response to this risk, workers can develop new capacities for establishing property relations not with their particular employment, but rather with the generalised differences they consider themselves to be able to make in a work situation. Increasingly, "this is what I do" is not a statement of the specific social role they play in an organisation (teacher, doctor, etc), but rather an appreciation of ones' impact on a generic work situation. By building these capacities, individuals acquire new skills to maintain identity and achieve flexibility in an environment of underemployment. Fundamentally, they maintain their readiness for employment or unemployment.

However, the capacity to maintain readiness is dependent on high levels of personal reflexivity. These can best be developed through useful underemployment (or useful unemployment) since the objective is to balance internal human goods (wellbeing, etc) with external socially efficacious practice. In essence, "because I am well I can act well". Have universities (particularly technical universities) focused on 'effective practice' at the expense of the internal human goods and useful unemployment? Whilst at the same time academic universities have focused on 'effective academic action' (essay writing, discursive techniques, etc.) whilst also not delivering the necessary personal reflexivities for surviving in a world of underemployment...

What is to be done? Is a new curriculum required? But once again, the instinct to innovate is borne out of authenticity. The simple question is "how do we make the most out of the available means?" In particular, I wonder if it is about how to make the most out of underemployment: by thinking, reading, writing, performing and talking.

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