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Self-Employment as Precarious Work

A European Perspective

Wieteke Conen and Joop Schippers

Since the 1970s the long term decline in self-employment has slowed – and even reversed in some countries – and the prospect of ‘being your own boss’ is increasingly topical in the discourse of both the general public and within academia. Traditionally, self-employment has been associated with independent entrepreneurship, but increasingly it has become a form of precarious work. This book utilises evidence-based information to address both the current and future challenges of this trend as the nature of self-employment changes, as well as to demonstrate where, when and why self-employment has emerged as precarious work in Europe.
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Chapter 8: Between precariousness and freedom: the ambivalent condition of independent professionals in Italy

Paolo Borghi and Annalisa Murgia


The chapter deals with the ambiguous condition of independent professionals entrapped between a growing insecurity and the desire to experiment their professional freedom. In the first part of the chapter the outline of a changing landscape of self-employment in Italy – with a focus on independent professionals – is provided by offering a historical overview, an analysis of the main labour reforms, and a statistical portrait. In the second part, based on a qualitative secondary analysis, four relevant characteristics of independent professionals are highlighted: the growing difficulty in defining successful professional careers; the ambivalence of autonomy that can lead to self-exploitation; the social protection gap in comparison with employees; the new interests of traditional and emerging organisations dealing with their collective representation. The risks connected to the ambivalent condition of being ‘precariously free’ are a challenge both for the new generation of independent professionals and for the organisational and institutional actors aimed at regulating and protecting this category of workers.

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