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Individualization, inequality, and labor: a qualitative approach

Abstract

In this paper, we show how we came to explore Beck’s theory of individualization in the light of a qualitative study of livelihood strategies in post-2008 Spain and Cyprus. We observed that experiences of downward social mobility in contexts of welfare retreat and precarious labor conditions were compelling people to build marketed individualities and to create individual biographies with recourse to a highly individualized rhetoric. However, analysis of a very diverse sample of subjects from different socio-economic backgrounds showed us that individualization theory must be conceptualized within a framework of social structures, and that Beck’s individualization theory fails to recognize its persistence in contemporary societies. We therefore propose looking at individualization as a contemporary process through which class differences are expressed. Only in this way can it serve as a useful theoretical tool with which to understand the workings of contemporary capitalism and the ways in which new values and moral frameworks are being formed.

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Notes

  1. See, for example, Bernardi (2007)’s compelling critique, in Le Quattro Sociologie e la Stratificazione Sociale, where he clearly describes the main contradictions and gaps in the theory. For example, like other scholars, he calls into question the assertion that inequality is becoming generalized among all social classes, but also pointed towards the difficulties inherent in the coexistence of the thesis on the individualization of poverty and that on the increase of inequality.

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Acknowledgements

The article’s main author, Marta M. Lobato, would like to thank anonymous reviewers, especially reviewer number one, for their valuable comments and suggestions.

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Lobato, M.M., Molina, J.L. & Valenzuela-García, H. Individualization, inequality, and labor: a qualitative approach. Dialect Anthropol 42, 277–291 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10624-018-9512-y

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Keywords

  • Individualization
  • Livelihood strategies
  • Crisis
  • Labor