Lambert, Rob, and Andrew Herod, eds. Neoliberal Capitalism and Precarious Work: Ethnographies of Accommodation and Resistance. Northampton: Edward Elgar, 2016. xii + 336 pages. Hardcover, $145.00.
The editors of Neoliberal Capitalism and Precarious Work: Ethnographies of Accommodation and Resistance, Rob Lambert and Andrew Herod, have pulled together a collection of articles focusing on precarious work through the lens of ethnography (interpreted broadly). The contributors hail from sociology, geography, anthropology, and labor relations. Most are academics in Europe, the United States, or Australia, and one comes from a place of practice in the Homeworkers Worldwide labor movement. This breadth of discipline and geography facilitates the anthology's meta-narrative about the need for labor movements to expand beyond localized concerns to combat the global nature of neoliberalism.
The Global North means of organizing labor might have worked well (for some people) with the Fordist model of production, but it is insufficient to counter neoliberal capitalism's fracturing of the workforce as it seeks ever greater profits. Labor is moved to countries with the cheapest workforce or with the least number of labor restrictions, and in cases where labor cannot be displaced geographically, such as the service sector (including cleaning services and construction work), services are subcontracted in many layers so that the relationship between the employer and the employee is obfuscated and diffuse. The majority of workers worldwide do not have continuous, predictable employment with wages that meet their needs to survive, much less thrive. Work depends on the vagaries of the market as companies attempt to meet the just-in-time model of production in order to increase profits as much as possible. As a response to neoliberal capitalism, the editors frame the book in such a way as to "stretch the political imagination as to the nature of such a movement [to reimagine social and economic relationships] and strategies to build such a force" (p. 305).
The anthology's backbone is its ethnographic perspective that allows the reader to follow the articles not only from the particular circumstances of specific workers to international webs of relationships, but also to the impact of neoliberal capitalism on the very Earth itself. This switch in perspective is necessary for ethnography to expand beyond a collection of local experiences to highlighting similar...