Precarization as a social phenomenon
The pandemic crisis has drastically highlighted a phenomenon that has been ignored for too long: precarization. There are many analyses of this concept from an economic point of view, but what does this phenomenon tell us when it is analyzed as a social concept, as a loss of community value? What importance does this value have, and what does its loss imply in terms of precariousness? These are the questions on which Lennart Nörreklit, professor emeritus at Aalborg University (DK), focuses in his Report 2022 of the European Network on Precarity SUPI.
Life as dialogue
«Life is a process of interaction of beings with their environment» explains Nörreklit. «If life thrives, the interaction is revealed as a form of intelligent interaction in which one assimilates and reflects the other. This is an intelligent process. It is a dialogue». Indeed, life takes place in relationships, and the elementary basis is dialogue, the interaction between two living beings. The importance of dialogue lies in the fusion of horizons, in the transmission of values; it is the engine by which character and knowledge are developed. Paradoxically, there is dialogue, the inner and personal one, even when we are alone.
The uniqueness of intrinsic values
We tend to think that everything can be replaced without considering that the only exception to this rule is the values. Intrinsic values, in fact, those that are not instrumental to something else, are based on their uniqueness, on their impossibility of being replaced. If we human beings are “guardians” of our values, their loss causes us pain; the threat of this loss has led us to develop social organization and technological tools, which are instrumental but necessary to preserve the intrinsic ones.
The eroded community: social theatre
According to Nörreklit’s analysis: «dialogue establishes common understanding, an understanding of why people feel and act a certain way. It is because of their values, situations, and possibilities to enforce values that people act in a certain way instead of another». Therefore, a community, seen as the basic social unit, is made up of people who preserve intrinsic values and create relationships through dialogue, becoming custodians of what become community values. «A theatre is different» Nörreklit goes on to specify, «in it, the actors are not concerned with being custodians of core values, but with positioning themselves in relation to others». This creates a social theatre, an environment where the actor-leader wants to prevail over the others, where power rules with lies, controlling the media, research, justice. The sense of community disappears, social cohesion and understanding are lost, there is no more empathy or mutual support. In the theatre scenario, therefore, the phenomenon of precariousness comes in a scenario that is studded with social threats and whose functioning is only and always in the hands of the leaders, who overlook and forget the people in precariousness.
The pillars of modern society and precarization
Science and the capitalist economy are the two great pillars of modern society, two powers that operate through principles of abstraction and generalization, i.e., through an alternative power to the importance of dialogue and relational ties. If instrumental power predominates, as it does in social theatre, intrinsic values are compromised and life becomes precarious as a result. Abstraction and generalization are the basis of scientific theories. Through this language, the world is reduced to a physical structure with no reference to value, where the search for universal laws prevails rather than the construction of dialogue and interaction that binds people together. On the other hand, the capitalist monetary economy is based on a principle of substitutability. This makes the economy of scale possible, where the world is used as a resource to be exploited, and people are seen as a replaceable labor force. Personal relationships and the value of dialogue are seen as wastes of time, obstacles to the free exploitation of people. This leads to a disintegration of the community, to a loss of values, of family ties, of relationships, to an increase in the phenomenon of social precariousness. Then there is a third pillar that is slowly emerging today: technological development and Artificial Intelligence, an innovation that brings great economic and social change but which, as a means of control, will make it almost impossible to distinguish between reality and fiction.
«The lockdown represents the closure of ’live communities’» Nörreklit continues, «as a result, we see the replacement of “live communities” by “web communities”. During the worldwide lockdown, everyone lives in a “Chinese room”, i.e., a place where communication takes place only in a hidden environment, without any semantics or practical action; therefore, there is no distinction between fiction and reality». For many professional groups, the lockdown has represented a departure from the community and a way to escape the stress caused by poor working conditions. The alienation from reality created by the lockdown thus produced an existential precarization, in which everyone’s life was locked into a symbolic world, depriving people of real communication. Video-conferencing and online contacts have led to creating a “network community” which, however, has the traits of fiction and social theatre: one does not really come into contact with the person, but only with their image. «Precariousness is the process that people experience when they discover that their life is slipping unstoppably into a fiction» adds Nörreklit. During the lockdown, each person remained locked in their personal Chinese room, experiencing only a simulacrum of community, a fiction where values do not matter.
The task of science: to serve dialogue
The loss of the community and its transformation into a social theatre have created the phenomenon of existential precariousness. The trauma caused by the pandemic and the lockdown will be challenging to overcome, and perhaps in some ways, the will is lacking. While the power to help, care and support each other is recognized in the community, in today’s society, this power is denied, transformed into something impersonal and subordinate to self-interest. It is necessary to rethink the role of science, which today is projected to promote human evolution through mechanisms that, paradoxically, lead to a further precariousness of life. The task of science should instead encompass the dialogue of life, its blessings, its vulnerability, its very possibility, including that of cultivating and enriching it. «Epistemology needs to analyze for the possibility to understand and support the deep individual relational bonding and intrinsic value formation», Lennart Nörreklit concludes, «the epistemological scientific focus on necessities should be subordinate to an epistemological scientific focus on analysing the individual possibilities for relation formation to enable intrinsic values». Ethics, dignity, and life are values that are defined through dialogue, the only means capable of building community and deconstructing the fictions of social theatre.
*Ida Nicotera, Eurispes International Dept.
**Lennart Nörreklit, Sociologist, Professor emeritus, Aalborg University Aalborg – Denmark.
Reference: SUPI European Network on Social Precarity 2022 (Berlin-Rome).