Precarity outside

The political unconscious of French academic labor

by Eli Thorkelson

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The concept of precarity has lately become prominent in anthropology as a way of theorizing neoliberal labor, affect, and subjectivity. But just what are the politics of this concept? In the context of French higher education and research, précarité is not only a designator for affect or labor relations. It is also a semiautonomous political concept with a political unconscious. Even as it mobilizes academic unions and makes claims on the French state, it fulfills covert ideological functions like political delegation, othering, sociological occlusion of race and class, and the universalization of elite disappointment. This in turn raises reflexive questions about precarity within Anglophone anthropology.