The Precariat: From Denizens to Citizens?


Liberalized markets promoted by the Washington Consensus under globalization have resulted in a global class structure in which new groups have emerged, including a precariat consisting of millions of people subject to flexible, insecure labor relations. The precariat is a class-in-the-making, in that the global market system wants most workers to be flexible and insecure, even if it is not yet a class-for-itself, having a clear vision of what type of society it wishes to see emerge. It is not an underclass. This article traces the factors explaining its growth and considers which demographic groups have the highest probability of being in it. The essay then considers two possible political scenarios—a politics of inferno, if current negative trends are allowed to continue, and a politics of paradise, a set of policies that would be essential to arrest those negative trends.

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  1. 1.

    Guy Standing, Work after Globalization: Building Occupational Citizenship (Cheltenham and New York: Edward Elgar, 2009).

  2. 2.

    Guy Standing, The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class (London and New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2011).

  3. 3.

    “False consciousness” may go either way, feeling that one is not in some class when objectively one is in it, or feeling that one is in it when objectively it might seem perverse to include oneself.

  4. 4.

    Either wages in such jobs should rise until enough people are prepared to undertake them, or the jobs should be made more attractive or automated out of existence.

  5. 5.

    Standing, Work after Globalization. Social income can be defined as the combination of all possible sources or forms of income—own production, money wages, enterprise non-wage benefits, state benefits, community benefits (transfers from family and local communities) and private benefits (income from investments and savings). Everyone needs at least one of these in order to survive. The structure of total social income varies over time, place, and socio-economic class.

  6. 6.

    For example, Hungary's public health authority refuses licenses to independent midwives and prosecutes midwives who attend home births.

  7. 7.

    Standing, Work after Globalization.

  8. 8.

    Guy Standing, “Global Feminization through Flexible Labor,” World Development 17 (July 1989): 1077–95.

  9. 9.

    Ironically, domestic work is regarded as work for determining whether a person should be disbarred from disability benefit, whereas if someone is doing such work and not job-seeking they are deemed as not working and therefore disentitled to some other benefits.

  10. 10.

    Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex (New York: Appleton, 1871), 166.

  11. 11.

    For instance, the notion of “labor rights” is inegalitarian and misleading, since it implies that those doing some kinds of work deserve rights that those doing other forms of work do not deserve. They are entitlements derived from performing labor currently or in the past, or from committing to do so in the future.

  12. 12.

    A problem with “economic citizenship” is that it contains an implicit bias in favor of resource use and depletion, of “growth” and labor.

  13. 13.


  14. 14.

    Guy Standing, “Responding to the Crisis: Economic Stabilisation Grants,” Policy and Politics 39 (2011): 9–25.

  15. 15.

    Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein, Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth and Happiness (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2008).

  16. 16.

    “The greater or lesser ease with which people can live without working is a sure index of intellectual progress.” Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Book 1, Chapter 13.

  17. 17.

    Adam Przeworski, Capitalism and Social Democracy: Studies in Marxism and Social Theory (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1985).

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Standing, G. The Precariat: From Denizens to Citizens?. Polity 44, 588–608 (2012).

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  • globalization
  • precariat
  • class
  • labor flexibility
  • insecurity
  • basic income