Precarious: work, life, and methods

Nielsen, Jacob
(2021) Precarious: work, life, and methods. Doctor of Philosophy thesis, University of Liverpool.

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Based on ethnographic fieldwork over an 18 month period in London amongst people living and working in precarious circumstances, this thesis seeks to develop academic method assemblages that are more attuned to precarious worlds. In doing so, it moves away from the notion that precariousness is something that only belongs to specific groups that can be delineated and studied with the purpose of creating policy interventions. Instead, it argues that precariousness refers to shared interdependence and vulnerability and that traditional social research method assemblages are often not attuned to these factors. To move towards more precarious method assemblages the thesis problematises the traditional ethnographic distinction between ‘the field’ and an imagined academic ‘home’ in order to navigate the tension between traditional method assemblages that rely on non-precarious methods and lives and precarious methods that are both more survivable for precarious academics and which might also be able to better apprehend precarious worlds. It furthermore outlines how academic methods partially interlink with salvage capitalist processes of inventory making and wealth accumulation. To explore these tensions and dynamics the thesis comprises three parts with different methodological directions and ambitions. In the first part, traditional method assemblages are utilised to explore the impact work had on people’s lives in the field. Whilst decent work is often promoted as the policy solution to the concerns of people working and living in precarious circumstances, the analyses offered in this part show lived experiences are more complex and that, in order to deal with the imposition of work, people engage in a range of different practices that become part of ever-changing dynamics of resistance and control. In the second part, the thesis draws out fragments from a messy and precarious research process to highlight the point that the research findings presented in the first part did not show the full picture. Instead, this part highlights how the analysis was always unsettled, multiple, diverse, and dependent on others until it was finalised as a disentangled academic piece of work. In the third part, the thesis tries to explore textual forms that can apprehend something about an unfolding weighted present in a precarious world that cannot quite be contained within traditional framings of that world. The textual fragments are more contradictory, incomplete, and vulnerable to the sway of others than was the case in the first two parts as they seek out ways to belong and survive in a precarious world. In a final discussion of how these parts are connected, the thesis ends with reflections on what it means to move away from methods that rely upon ringfenced meanings and conclusive findings, to methods which are instead open to more vulnerable and interdependent ways of making sense of the multiple possible meanings of the thesis and the lives, experiences, practices and situations it touches upon.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy)
Divisions: Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences > School of Law and Social Justice
Depositing User: Symplectic Admin
Date Deposited: 03 Sep 2021 15:34
Last Modified: 18 Jan 2023 22:50
DOI: 10.17638/03120515