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 6: Nature and insecurity in South Africa

Jacklyn Cock 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


This chapter illustrates how ecological degradation is deepening the experience of precarity under contemporary capitalism. Connecting ecological degradation with social and economic insecurity, we want to suggest, is important, for the reach of capitalist-produced precarity extends far beyond work and living conditions. Thus, as Sweeney (2012, p._13) has averred, the ‘same economic system that abuses and commodifies the environment also abuses people, animals, and all organic life’. This is because nature and capitalism are inexorably entwined, with capitalism impacting ecosystems in ways that are different from those under other modes of production (Smith 1984). Hence, nature provides the raw materials which the capitalist labour process converts into commodities in the search for profit, with any associated environmental destruction frequently viewed as an ‘external cost’ that is usually not included in the price of securing these raw materials from the Earth. Equally, various locations on the Earth’s surface serve as repositories for such commodities after they are discarded because their use value has been exhausted or, often more frequently, because they cannot be sold at a profit. The nature of the class system under capitalism means that such dumping places are usually close to poor neighbourhoods or, in the case of toxic and e-waste, are often relegated to the Global South. Given how interconnected are capitalism and nature, the ecological precarity that capitalism is presently generating is a dramatic indicator of an economic system very much in crisis.

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