If you identify as disabled, neurodiverse and/or chronically ill, and also hold a precarious job, I would like to speak to you (via face-to-face or Skype interviews, throughout 2020) about your experience of the body (in terms of disability, chronic illness, neurodiversity), work, rest, and the social security system. I am also looking for participants who would be willing to keep an 8-week diary of their daily experiences of living while undertaking and/or seeking gig economy jobs (starting in September 2020).
The idea for the name of this website (Material Bodies and Precarious Work) came as a result of my realisation that in many of the recent (and undoubtedly excellent) academic and activist publications on work, disability and the materiality/experience of the body have often been neglected, under-theorised, or mentioned as an afterthought. In other words, the analysis does not reflect enough on the daily experience of our bodies and minds that are always different and always in the process of changing. The aim of my project is to think about precarious work and post-work futures through the politics of disablement (and the other way round).
This research project will question the relationship between, and social reproduction of the body, the self, and the dogma of work in the context of ‘the gig economy’ in the United Kingdom. To explore ideas, experiences, and policies in relation to the politics of disablement at/in precarious work, I intend to conduct semi-structured interviews with disabled, neurodiverse, and/or chronically ill individuals who are working under any of the conditions mentioned below:
- on short term contracts/work arrangements
- on zero-hours contracts/work arrangements
- through agencies
- as outsourced
- as self-employed
- on (imposed) part-time contracts
- on casual contracts/work arrangements
I will also seek to collect diary entries that reflect everyday experiences of insecure work. My theorisation of the body (as always changing, in flux) will be informed by an engagement with disability activist pamphlets, state policies, news stories, and academic literature (in particular, developments within Critical Disability Studies -the social model- and New Materialist/Posthuman philosophy). My analysis of possibilities for rethinking and destabilising the centrality of work in society will emerge through an engagement with, as above, pamphlets, policies, the news, and academic literature (especially Marxist Autonomist, and post- and anti-work writings).
I have written about it here: https://materialbodies.work/historical-context
What needs to change? Let’s talk!
There has been a lot of talk recently about the future of work and the state of the ‘gig economy’ in the UK (that is, work that is not full-time and permanent) but the disabled gig economy workers’ current experiences and demands for change have not received enough attention. On the one hand, short-term jobs are said to be a flexible and advantageous arrangement for disabled workers and there are many who choose to undertake this type of work due to some of the advantages it offers. On the other hand, precarious work is being undertaken in disablist conditions that place unreasonable demands upon workers, requiring ‘hyper abilities’ to achieve the job’s goals, often on low wages, with no union representation, and with no access to sick pay.
This project is allowing me to create a space and time for conversations with disabled and chronically ill workers with varying perspectives on and realities of work, rest, and disablement. Thus, the viewpoints and experiences of the participants will be placed at the core of this project. I wish to find out about your experiences of living in relation to managing short-term/insecure work, wellbeing, financial security, and sense of autonomy. I also want to know what you think needs to change in order for the institution of work (broadly speaking, and the particular conditions of jobs) not to disable people, and how that could be achieved. Through this project, therefore, I seek to do more than just formulate a policy recommendation or reform for the state institutions to adopt. Instead, the conversations, diary entries, activist pamphlets, reports, and academic literatures will help articulate a set of principles and a way of thinking, acting and relating to one another differently. This helps us imagine and enact demands for different and more nuanced understandings of work and the body, and their role and value in society. In other words, the implications of this project go beyond short-term solutions, as I wish to explore ways to critically re-evaluate the role of work within society, and engage in a transformative politics of disability. This includes interrogating the meaning of who a ‘productive member of society’ and ‘productivity’ mean. The story that will emerge through this project will hopefully have implications and be relevant to a wide range of groups and social movements who are facing social and political marginalisation and are working towards social transformation. The knowledge, insights and reflections of the participants in this project are the most important part of this project. I would appreciate your input!