- State of Insecurity: Government of the Precarious by Isabell Lorey
In this slim but pithy volume, political theorist Isabell Lorey provides critical insights into the concept and dimensions of precarity and how precarization has evolved into a form of governance under neoliberalism. Cogently rendered in English by Linz-based translator Aileen Derieg, Lorey's analysis is concise, readable, and relevant for anyone concerned about the intersection of social, economic, and political relationships in Western capitalism. Lorey acknowledges the intellectual labour of the scholars who have influenced her work, ranging from Karl Marx and Hannah Arendt to Michel Foucault, Pierre Bourdieu, Paolo Virno, and Judith Butler, among others. Butler's foreword salutes Lorey for her synthesis of ideas on power, sovereignty, individualization, and normalization to theorize precarity not only as a condition of inequality grounded in socio-economic and biopolitical hierarchies but also as a potential for activism and resistance.
Lorey launches into her interrogation of the processes, production, and inevitability of precariousness by differentiating among a nuanced cluster of terms: precariousness, precarity, and precarization. Lorey's definition of precariousness is indebted to Butler's conceptualization of precariousness as existential, relational, and unavoidable, in so far as all human beings are mortal, vulnerable to disease and accidents, and social (12). Although precariousness is common to all, it is not equally shared because of its second dimension, precarity. Precarity refers to the striation of inequality and insecurity based on social hierarchies. Lorey's third dimension is precarization, or governmental precarization, which is the instrumentalization of insecurity to render the population governable, subservient, and complicit. What distinguishes Lorey's analysis is not only her attention to gender differences and modes of othering that contribute to the striation of precarity but also her observation of how precarization has become normalized and internalized in contemporary neoliberal systems: normalized in the sense that it is systemic and prevalent, and internalized as a valorization of selfmanagement and individual responsibility.
While precariousness is an existential aspect of human society, Lorey traces the roots of governmental precarization back to nineteenth-century bourgeois liberal notions of individual responsibility and the idealization of the married, white male bourgeois subject as the norm. Precarization functioned as a means of governance by providing certain protections from a fixed assortment of insecurities to the normative male bourgeois subject, who thereby enjoyed a position of privilege over others, who were either dependent on him or excluded. This unequal [End Page 539] access to security is a biopolitical feature of governance that has been normalized and serves as the basis for social relations and self-governance (33).
In the context of her biopolitical framework, Lorey references the "immunological dynamic" underlying French labour sociologist Robert Castel's work on precarity (46). Reading Castel's metaphors of sickness and inoculation against the grain, Lorey argues that precarization works on society and individuals by creating a fantasy of protection through immunization. To function as a means of social control, systems of protection and security require the threat of insecurity and danger to legitimize their power. Here Lorey criticizes Castel not only for his androcentric perspective but also for failing to differentiate between precariousness and precarity, establishing a false binary between the welfare state as security and precarity as insecurity, and ignoring the normalization of precarization by focusing on integration into an imagined social middle (56-60).
Under normalized precarization, the previously privileged white male bourgeois subject becomes increasingly insecure despite continued differential access to socio-economic protections. In this environment, the perception of social others as a threat is exacerbated, with concomitant calls for greater border security and restrictions on immigrants (68) and an escalation of racial tensions. Individuals compete with each other for decreasing protections and subordinate themselves to the system, resulting in what Lorey terms "self-precarization" (70). Differential access to security coupled with the inescapability of insecurity (precariousness common to all) undermines both community and solidarity but fosters the governability of the populace. The system effectively sustains itself through generalized...