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Nice Work If You Can Get It

Life and Labor in Precarious Times

Andrew Ross

Publication Year: 2009

2009 Choice Outstanding Academic Title

Is job insecurity the new norm? With fewer and fewer people working in steady, long-term positions for one employer, has the dream of a secure job with full benefits and a decent salary become just that—a dream?

In Nice Work If You Can Get It, Andrew Ross surveys the new topography of the global workplace and finds an emerging pattern of labor instability and uneven development on a massive scale. Combining detailed case studies with lucid analysis and graphic prose, he looks at what the new landscape of contingent employment means for workers across national, class, and racial lines—from the emerging “creative class” of high-wage professionals to the multitudes of temporary, migrant, or low-wage workers. Developing the idea of “precarious livelihoods” to describe this new world of work and life, Ross explores what it means in developed nations—comparing the creative industry policies of the United States, United Kingdom, and European Union, as well as developing countries—by examining the quickfire transformation of China's labor market. He also responds to the challenge of sustainability, assessing the promise of “green jobs” through restorative alliances between labor advocates and environmentalists.

Ross argues that regardless of one's views on labor rights, globalization, and quality of life, this new precarious and “indefinite life,&” and the pitfalls and opportunities that accompany it is likely here to stay and must be addressed in a systematic way. A more equitable kind of knowledge society emerges in these pages—less skewed toward flexploitation and the speculative beneficiaries of intellectual property, and more in tune with ideals and practices that are fair, just, and renewable.

Published by: NYU Press


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pp. i-ii

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. iii-iv


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-viii

Because this is the first title in the NYU Series in Social and Cultural Analysis, I’d like to acknowledge the contributions of my faculty colleagues and staff in the Department of Social and Cultural Analysis (SCA). Four years ago, we were given a rare opportunity —to launch a ...

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pp. 1-12

The need to make a living has always set people in motion—off the land, into the towns and cities, over the seas. Most have been fleeing oppressive forms of work—chattel slavery, serfdom, indenture, guild dependence, patriarchal servitude, routine wage labor—in search of a more free ...

I. Creative Workers and Rent-Seeking

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pp. 13-14

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1. The Mercurial Career of Creative Industries Policymaking in the United Kingdom, the European Union, and the United States

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pp. 15-52

Trade deregulation has brought down barriers to the movement of capital and jobs, but it has not freed up movement of people in pursuit of a better livelihood. The upshot is that work is allowed to circulate around the globe with impunity, but workers themselves are not—in ...

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2. China’s Next Cultural Revolution?

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pp. 53-76

Newly industrialized countries in the global South have not been slow to try out the creative industries policy model. Some of the more advanced ones are fast losing their manufacturing-sector jobs to mainland China and Southeast Asia, and they need higher-skill services ...

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3. The Olympic Goose That Lays the Golden Egg

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pp. 77-101

CI Policymaking cannot survive without a regular intake of statistics, and so it was only a matter of time before Chinese officialdom’s own addiction to issuing numbers came up with the goods. In January 2007, the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Statistics announced that the cultural ...

II. Sustainability and the Ground Staff

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pp. 102-103

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4. Teamsters, Turtles, and Tainted Toys

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pp. 105-130

No one who toils in an offshore manufacturing facility needs to be reminded of the risks to life and limb that free trade delivers daily to their workplace. Thanks to the efforts of the anti-sweatshop movement, public consciousness has been on a slow but sure learning curve about these ...

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5. Learning from San Ysidro

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pp. 131-157

The migration of people in search of a subsistence livelihood is an abiding feature of world history. In modern times, the dispossession of peasant land is one of the chief factors that has set populations in motion, and in the era of neoliberal free trade, these patterns of displacement have ...

III. Instruments of Knowledge Capitalism

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pp. 158-160

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6. The Copyfight over Intellectual Property

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pp. 161-188

Policies like those I discussed in the first three chapters—appealing to creative industries or mega-events—are aimed at place-based development. On the face of it, they promise to anchor good jobs and retain investments that would otherwise be globe hopping. The evidence suggests, however, that the ...

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7. The Rise of the Global University

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pp. 189-206

This last chapter of this book concerns the work sector to which its author contributes on a daily basis. Higher education has not been immune to the impact of economic globalization. Indeed, its institutions are now on the brink of channeling some of the most dynamic, and therefore ...

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Conclusion: Maps and Charters

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pp. 207-214

Thanks to the bestselling reach of journalist Thomas Friedman’s book The World Is Flat, the concept of the flat world is now established in the public mind as a spatial picture of the new global landscape of work. In that book and elsewhere, Friedman has depicted globalization as a free-for- all where advanced technologies and trade liberalization are leveling all the ...


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pp. 215-218


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pp. 219-244


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pp. 245-263

About the Author

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p. 264-264

E-ISBN-13: 9780814777398
E-ISBN-10: 0814777392
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814776292
Print-ISBN-10: 0814776299

Page Count: 254
Publication Year: 2009