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Desperate responsibility: precarity and right-wing populism

Apostolidis, Paul (2022) Desperate responsibility: precarity and right-wing populism. Political Theory, 50 (1). 114 - 141. ISSN 0090-5917

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Identification Number: 10.1177/0090591720985770


This essay explores the mutual reinforcements between socioeconomic precarity and right-wing populism, and then envisions a politics that contests Trumpism through workers’ organizations that create alternatives to predominant patterns of subject formation through work. I first revisit my recent critique of precarity, which initiates a new method of critical theory informed by Paulo Freire’s political pedagogy of popular education. Reading migrant day laborers’ commentaries on their work experiences alongside critical accounts of today’s general work culture, this “critical-popular” procedure yields a conception of precarity with two defining characteristics. First, precarity is socially bivalent: it singles out specific groups for especially harsh treatment even as it pervades society. Second, precarity constitutes subjects through contradictory experiences of time in everyday work-life, exacerbated by insoluble dilemmas of moral responsibility. Antonio Vásquez-Arroyo’s conception of “political literacy” and Bridget Anderson’s notion of “migrantizing the citizen,” in turn, help us understand how precaritization blocks workers from developing the critical dispositions toward time needed for democratic citizenship. This analysis then makes it possible to elucidate, in dialogue with Daniel Martinez-HoSang and Joseph Lowndes, how precaritized worker-citizenship facilitates the cross-class and multiracial appeal of Trumpism’s white supremacist discourse of national economic decline and resurgence, while normalizing the temporal affects of shock and violence characteristic of Trumpism, as theorized by Lia Haro and Romand Coles. Day laborers’ worker centers, I argue, refunction precaritized time, regenerate political literacy, and migrantize the citizen. A large-scale alternative to right-wing populism thus could emerge if the worker center network were expanded throughout the economy.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2021 The Author
Divisions: Government
Subjects: J Political Science > JC Political theory
Date Deposited: 16 Dec 2020 13:27
Last Modified: 19 Jul 2024 16:45

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