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Becoming Common: Precarization as Political Constituting


The discourse on precarization that has emerged in the past decade, primarily in Europe, rests on an extremely complex understanding of social insecurity and its productivity. The various strands of this discourse have been brought together again and again in the context of the European precarious movement organized under EuroMayDay. This transnational movement, in existence since the early 2000s, thematizes precarious working and living conditions as the starting point for political struggles and seeks possibilities for political action in neoliberal conditions. What is unusual about this social movement is not only the way in which under its auspices new forms of political struggles are tested and new perspectives on precarization developed; rather—and this is striking in relation to other social movements—it is how it has queered the seemingly disparate fields of the cultural and the political again and again. In the past decade, conversations concerning both the (partly subversive) knowledge of the precarious, and a search for commons (in order to constitute the political), has conspicuously taken place more often in art institutions than in social, political, or even academic contexts.

In 2004, for example, the research, exhibition, and event project “Atelier Europa” in the Kunstverein Munich brought theorists and artists together to exchange ideas about precarious living and working conditions and possible resistance to them. The project focused on the increasing number and variety of forms of precarization not only in the field of cultural production, but also in social fields, especially the caregiving and reproduction work still largely assigned to women. The feminist activist group from Madrid, “Precarias a la deriva,” provided an important contribution in this respect.

Another example from 2004: on the day before May 1, activists from Indymedia groups from all over Spain met at the invitation of the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art (MACBA) to conduct an intensive debate about their media activism practices. On May 1 they not only took part in the EuroMayDay demonstration but also carried the problematization of precarious working conditions back to MACBA. It became possible to articulate a critique of the ambivalent role of art institutions: on the one hand, institutions in the art field were the site of critical discussions of neoliberal transformation processes; on the other, such institutions were important players in the game of cognitive capitalism and increasing precarization tendencies.

As a final example, In January 2005 the international conference “Klartext!” took place in Berlin in the Künstlerhaus Bethanien and the Volksbühne am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz, devoted to the “Status of the Political in Contemporary Art and Culture.” Many of those invited were also activists in the transnational EuroMayDay network who had met on the day before the conference in Berlin. They brought the current problematizations of precarization into the conference (and were able to have their travel costs reimbursed).

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