Mechanisms of biopower and neoliberal governmentality in precarious work: Mobilizing the dependent self-employed as independent business owners
In the contemporary conditions of neoliberal governmentality, and the emerging ‘gig economy,’ standard employment relationships appear to be giving way to precarious work. This article examines the mechanisms of biopower and techniques of managerial control that underpin—and produce consent for—precarious work and nonstandard work arrangements. Based on an ethnographic study, the article shows how a globally operating direct sales organization deploys particular techniques of government to mobilize and manage its precarious workers as a network of enterprise-units: as a community of active and productive economic agents who willingly reconstitute themselves and their lives as enterprises to pursue self-efficacy, autonomy and self-worth as individuals. The article contributes to the literature on organizational power, particularly Foucauldian studies of the workplace, in three ways: (1) by building a theoretical analytics of government perspective on managerial control that highlights the nondisciplinary, biopolitical forms of power that underpin employment relations under the conditions of neoliberal governmentality; (2) by extending the theory of enterprise culture to the domain of precarious work to examine the mechanisms of biopower that underpin ongoing transformations in the sphere of work; and (3) by shifting critical attention to the lived experience of precarious workers in practice.
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