The Affective Politics of the Precariat: Reconsidering Alternative Histories of Grassroots Worker Organising

  • Jennifer Jihye Chun University of Toronto


This article engages with Guy Standing’s arguments about the affective politics of the precariat by reflecting on the conditions that facilitate, as well as constrain, the solidaristic transformation of the precariat. After evaluating Standing’s Polanyian theory of social change based on assumptions about the destructive tendencies of neo-liberal capitalism and a liberal politics of hope, it offers two critical interventions. First, celebrating the solidaristic traditions of the past industrial era erases historical patterns of labour organising that were quite exclusionary for traditional denizens such as women, non-white immigrants and people of colour in the United States. Second, a top-down approach to solidaristic transformation neglects alternative histories of grassroots worker organising around non-work social identities and communities. This historical erasure and neglect overlooks how oppressed and socially devalued workers have sought to challenge the fundamental gap between reality and rhetoric under liberal capitalist democracy, a key predicament for long-standing members of the precariat that persists in today’s global era of pervasive inequality and precarity.