Precarity as a political concept is predicated upon a shared failure, a collective failure to be the self-sustaining able-bodied individuals that neoliberal democracies and capitalist markets demand us to be. Neoliberal organizations of capital figure bodies as being equally capable of participating in various labor markets, having equal access to public institutions, and being equally able to support and care for themselves. In this way, neoliberalism attempts to erase the differences that actually come to matter in one’s life (the radical differences that make each one of us importantly contingent, unique and singular) and generate difference based solely on economic performance (a difference that singularly parses into class). In short, capital aims to differentially distribute wealth and material support based on what people ‘deserve’, rather than based on what they ‘need’, causing those who fair less well in various markets to live much more precarious lives than those that do well.
It goes without saying that we are all in no way ‘equal’ in the ways capital imagines us to be; we all come to be importantly different in the specificities and nuances of historical processes. Furthermore, we are never fully autonomous nor individual, but instead are always-already embedded in various communities, traced through diverse histories of migration, and articulated by any number of political formations that all come to differentially empower and/or disempower us in markedly distinct contexts. Contrary to what capital demands of us or imagines us to be, we do not come into, live in, or leave this world singularly, and our efforts are never wholly our own. Rather, the totality of our experience of being and acting within the world are defined by the ways in which our singularity is perpetually entangled with a multiplicity of affective densities that produce the conditions and environments for our experiences and actions. This play between singularity (the things that make us apart from a whole) and multiplicity (the things/places/people that we are entangled with) is the differential poetic space within which we are (re)produced, within which coalition is rendered possible, and through which our lives unfold.
This insistence on the multiplicity always-already present in the singular is not meant to erase difference in the interest of staging entanglement (which is what capital does in capturing multiplicity within the singularity of ‘the’ market). Rather, the multiplicity of the singular is meant to proclaim a much more radical difference, a difference which makes every body contingent, unique, and worthy of preservation and protection. Precarity is ultimately structured by affect in the ways in which the virtual (the possible) comes to emerge as the actual (the realized) only in and through the preservation of certain conditions. Both the virtual and actual are ‘real’ in the sense that they both come to matter in the present, and are only actualized given contingent conditions of possibility and rely on the political organization and distribution of various forms of precarity (emotional, economic, ecological, etc.). It is the differential multiplicity of the singular that is enfolded within a fractal web of relation, in which various coalitions of support and care affectively labor and organize to preserve the environmental and social conditions that allow for the endurance and blossoming of contingent singularities.
One or many starling(s)?
A politics of precarity assert that things only come to be given contingent affective organizations of environmental conditions (and are then born into the world), require active care, support and maintenance of those conditions to continue to exist/persist in that world (and then have duration in the world), and eventually die when those flows of affect and care fail to reproduce those conditions (as a moment of extinction). The slogan ‘Existence is Resistance’ resonates with this frame, and positions the endurance as the modality through which political struggles are waged. Placing precarity at the center of our politics stakes out the social responsibility we collectively share to care for precarious others, and also comes to frame the struggles required of us in the imperative reorganization of the conditions and processes that differentially make some more precarious than others. This reframing forces us to consider the processes of affect and care alongside the necessary antagonisms and revolts that struggles require of us.
In a capitalist society there are coalitions based on class which act to differentially deny access to care. The privation and accumulation of affective potentials and access to care by specific coalitions and not others transforms the common condition of precarity into a dense field of power and contestation in which some have their needs cared for while others are left deprived in their singularity. Precarity comes to be unequally distributed across different dimensionalities of difference, usually based on certain class differences, but also across the differential spectrums of gender, race, sexuality, and other expressions of difference. The struggle from and against precarity is found in the coalitional antagonisms that result in the attempts to redistribute and reorganize the processes of precaritization. In the struggle to democratize the access to and distribution of care, we find ourselves roaming a territory bound by both affect and antagonism. This territory is affective in the ways in which we enter into coalitions that ensure our own ability to endure and produces the conditions for the endurance of others. The territory is antagonistic in the ways in which these same coalitions contest the control and privation of various affective flows and material supports along different modalities of difference.
Love is manifest precisely in this coalitional overcoming, this reaching out across and through fields of difference, which is necessitated by the very condition of our shared precarity. Our ability to persist and endure is always only possible through profound webs of interdependence, struggle, and coalition-making. We are never merely present, but are always situated in tides of becoming, being reproduced through the affective flows of care that make porous the boundaries that both separate us and tie us together. Love is the process that emerges in this radically mutual unfolding in which we realize that our singularity is always-already multiple; as Judith Butler so famously declared: ‘Let’s face it. We’re undone by each other.’ Thinking precarity in this way, we find ourselves not simply entangled with the antagonisms that necessarily arise in the struggles to redistribute precarity more equitably, but also in coalitions predicated on a love shaped by the imbricated precarities we share in common. The radical difference of the singular individual resonates in and across these fields and spectrums of chaotic difference, finding unlikely allies and collective becomings, finding love in these resonances and ways of being-together in the world.
An experimental coalition in #OWS in solidarity with the indebted precariat.
Affective coalitions can produce the conditions under which precarity is redistributed more equitably and can even be alleviated across an environment as a whole. In resisting the privation and capture of affective flows in territories that cut across ecologies of exchange, and instead fostering mobile webs of exchange, dynamism, and entanglement, the outlines of radically liberatory politics germinate. We all live different degrees of precarity generated by different modalities of differentiation and articulation. In vast webs of resonating singularities and multiplicities, solidarity can magnify the intensive affects of coalitional expressions of living-together. The differentially entangled fields of precarious life locate power in the flows and blockages of overlapping and unfolding affective processes, and the radical openings offered by love produce the potentiality for us to find and care for one another in our collective precarity.