Neoliberal Capitalism and Precarious Work

Neoliberal Capitalism and Precarious Work

Ethnographies of Accommodation and Resistance

Edited by Rob Lambert and Andrew Herod

Since the renaissance of market politics on a global scale, precarious work has become pervasive. Divided into two parts, the first section of this cross-disciplinary book analyses the different forms of precarious work that have arisen over the past thirty years. These transformations are captured in ethnographically orientated chapters on sweatshops; day labour; homework; unpaid contract work of Chinese construction workers; the introduction of insecure contracting in the Korean automotive industry; and the insecurity of Brazilian cane cutters. The editors and contributors then collectively explore trade union initiatives in the face of precarious work and stimulate debate on the issue.

Chapter 1: Neoliberalism, precarious work and remaking the geography of global capitalism

Andrew Herod and Rob Lambert

Subjects: geography, human geography, political geography and geopolitics, politics and public policy, political geography and geopolitics, social policy and sociology, labour policy


In May 2015 the International Labour Organization (ILO) released its World Employment and Social Outlook: The Changing Nature of Jobs report. Its executive summary was stark in its assessment of the character of work at the beginning of the twenty-first century, detailing the ‘shift away from the standard employment model, in which workers earn wages and salaries in a dependent employment relationship vis-à-vis their employers, have stable jobs and work full time’ (p. 13). As the ILO noted: In advanced economies, the standard employment model is less and less dominant. In emerging and developing economies, there has been some strengthening of employment contracts and relationships but informal employment continues to be common in many countries and, at the bottom of global supply chains, very short-term contracts and irregular hours are becoming more widespread … Today, wage and salaried employment accounts for only about half of global employment and covers as few as 20 per cent of workers in regions such as Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. In a number of advanced economies, the incidence of wage and salaried employment has been on a downward trend, thus departing from historical patterns. Conversely, own-account work and other forms of employment outside the scope of the traditional employer–employee arrangement are on the rise. In emerging and developing economies, the historical trend towards more wage and salaried employment is slowing down. The incidence of jobs in the informal economy and unpaid family work remain stubbornly high in most developing countries.