Seeing the "Changing Nature of Work" through a Precarity Lens


  • Richard W. Mallett London School of Economics



This article reviews the concept of precarity and offers critical reflections on its contribution to the
study of contemporary labour and livelihoods. A stock-take of key and recent literature suggests
that, despite conceptual ambiguity and overstretching, “thinking with precarity” continues to prove
a valuable and worthwhile exercise – so long as that thinking is carefully articulated. This involves
understanding precarity as: 1) rooted in concrete labour market experiences but also connected to
broader anxieties over social and political life; 2) a process-focused concept rather than end-state
descriptor; and 3) speaking to longer histories and wider geographies than its commonplace status
as a residual term or category implies. The analytical advantages of thinking in such a way are
illustrated through a critical analysis of the World Bank’s World Development Report 2019 on the
“changing nature of work”, and in particular its handling of digital labour.
KEYWORDS: precarious work; politics of precarity; livelihoods; digital labour; gig economy