Academic journal article International Journal of Action Research

The Increasing Precariousness of the Employment Society: Driving Force for a New Right Wing Populism?

Academic journal article International Journal of Action Research

The Increasing Precariousness of the Employment Society: Driving Force for a New Right Wing Populism?

Article excerpt

The text deals with the relations between the precariousness of employment relations and right-wing populist orientations. On the basis of qualitative empirical material it sketches a right-wing populist system of axioms that - if it is consolidated - can also structure labour experiences. The article explains that these orientations can exist in all zones of the "employment society". In connection with this, it discusses the explanatory potential of different theoretical approaches.

Key words: Precariousness, right wing populism, integration, employment society, everyday consciousness, political orientation, subjective interpretations

Employment societies of the Western European "atlantic" or "co-operative" capitalisms have been undergoing transformation. They face a phenomenon well-known to the more market-driven "un-coordinated" Anglo-Saxon forms of capitalism: the increase in insecure, unprotected modes of employment which do not guarantee long-term wellbeing. Social scientists like Robert Castel (2005: 54ff.) speak of the "return of insecurity" in rich Western societies. Although "these societies enjoy the protection of security systems" the fear of "insecurity is omnipresent" (ibid.: 8). This increasing insecurity is provoked by fault lines in the labour market. The link between wage earning employment and strong social rights is being eroded. Due to a flexible working régime and the weakening of collective regulation, current "financial market capitalism" (Windolf 2005) represents the recommodification of labour (Castel 2000; Hyman 2001; Dörre et al. 2005). This is taking place in different countries at different times; "institutional filters" of national capitalisms influence it, but cannot stop it. Post-Fordist employment societies are divided into three "zones". The "zone of disaffiliation", relatively small in Germany, contains the long-term unemployed. The regularly, full-time employed belong to the "zone of integration". Above 60 % of all German employees are located in this zone (Brinkmann et al. 2006). In between is a growing "zone of precariousness", with heterogeneous employment modes like temporary work, fixed-term contract work, forced part-time work, little jobs, badly paid jobs, state-subsidised jobs ("one-euro-jobs") and unpaid practical trainees. These jobs do not provide long term security, and are precarious.

This hypothesis has been developed by Robert Castel in "Transformation of the Social Question", based on French society, He probed the influence of precariousness on political attitudes. The "return of insecurity" is a driving force for a "Poujadist reaction", a model of right-wing populism based on rivalry between those faced with exclusion from the labour market, fuelled by resentment: "It is a reaction of groups located at the lower end of the social ladder who are in a situation of deprivation and who are competing with other equally or even more deprived members of society... They search for reasons to understand their situation and pretend to be superior with the help of xenophobia and racist discrimination" (Castel 2005: 73f).

Castel has provoked debate. In our recent study we applied these hypotheses to Germany, and saw the effects of precariousness on the quality of integration. We identified modes of dealing with precariousness politically, and possible transitions towards right-wing populist orientations. Current right-wing populism manifests itself in the every-day-consciousness of employees. Precariousness furnishes the "raw material", enabling political reaction to be synthesised into right-wing populist orientations.

Contrary to conventional questionnaire-based research, identifying continuities and developments of right-wing extremist potentials using approved questioning strategies, we assumed complex interrelated processes, for which appropriate empirical indicators are still to be developed. Contemporary right-wing populism is a politically virulent anti-democratic and anti-egalitarian current. …

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