State of Insecurity: Government of the Precarious, Isabell Lorey, 2015 - The Courtauld Institute of Art

State of Insecurity: Government of the Precarious, Isabell Lorey, 2015

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Welfare State and Immunisation

Isabell Lorey

Excerpted from State of Insecurity: Government of the Precarious by Isabell Lorey, first published in English by Verso 2015. Translation © Aileen Derieg 2015. All rights reserved.

Current social-science research on ‘precarity’,1 in which the concept generally has a negative connotation, can be understood in the genealogy of the liberal form of precarity as inequality, which has partly become inscribed in the welfare-state safeguarding of existential precariousness. The exclusively negative meaning of ‘precarity’ goes back to the two French sociologists whose ideas still form the fundamental analytical parameters for institutionalized precarization research in the social sciences today: Pierre Bourdieu and Robert Castel.2 Castel’s argument exemplifies the way in which a solely negative construction of ‘precarity’ assumes a political-immunological function, which is particularly reproduced and constricted in the adaptation of his theses in the German-language zone.

The biopolitical-immunizing dynamic in Castel’s position moves between security and protection on the one side and endangerment and threat on the other. Accordingly, in his analyses of ‘precarity’, the welfare state stands on the side of protection, whereas ‘precarity’ is on the side of potential endangerment – not only of those affected by insufficient protection through employment, but also of society as a whole.

If I criticize here the opposition that Castel posits between the secure welfare state and insecure ‘precarity’, it is not my intention to deploy a neoliberal discourse of freedom that celebrates ‘the liberation of individuals from the clutches of the “nanny state”‘.3 Instead, two questions arise: Who was already not (sufficiently) safeguarded in the Fordist welfare-state system? And in what way is social insecurity currently becoming a component of social normality? If ‘precarity’ is conceived solely as threat and insecurity, this means it is always posited in contrast to a norm of security; it remains in the mode of deviation. This makes it impossible to grasp the processes of normalization that I understand as the regulation of modes of precarization and thus as a neoliberal instrument of steering and technique of governing.


Biopolitical Immunization 

I use the concept of ‘biopolitical immunization’ to designate a modern dynamic of legitimizing and securing relations of domination. This figure of the politically immune is characterized – in contrast to juridical immunity – by the movement of taking in. This involves a manner of safeguarding that implies a movement into what is to be protected. What is to be protected can be a political community, a social constellation, from which an evil coming from ‘within itself’ must be differentiated in order to protect this community. First, this kind of evil must be discursively positioned at the social margin – frequently supported by a process of othering – in order to then be split: into one part that is considered, in relation to immunization, as ‘capable of integration’, and another part that is constructed as ‘incurable’ and deadly for the community, and that must therefore be completely excluded. The security of the community is regulated through the integration of a neutralized and domesticated potential danger, which is in part produced by security techniques for their own legitimization.4

A political-immunological perspective also makes it possible to inquire how the threatening and dangerous is constructed in a pattern of social-theory argumentation – as in the sociological analysis of ‘precarity’ – if previous forms of immunization no longer protect against what is threatening and dangerous. What ideas of society, state and the individual emerge, if relations of power and domination are understood as legitimating and reproducing themselves in an immunizing dynamic between security and insecurity, between protection and endangerment?

These kinds of threat scenarios usually aim to (re-) immunize relations of domination. In other words, they indicate a crisis of specific relations of domination, the disintegration of which is depicted as catastrophic, and particularly a (re-)establishing of protection and security techniques that can be used for steering and regulating the governed.

In this context, security discourses cannot dispense with parameters of threat and endangerment, in order to legitimize their immunization.

Modern discourses of immunization no longer solely involve potential dangers from the outside. There has long been an awareness of immanent danger; the endangered, weak position is part of society, and if its endangerment is not controlled and regulated, it can only be contained at best. Should the danger spread, however – and this kind of proclaimed potential danger underscores the urgency of this model of argument – then the entire society is endangered and threatened with disintegration and breakdown.

One very old fear of this kind of disintegration is the fear of ‘civil war’, with its concern about a division of society that potentially leads to the collapse of ‘social peace’, of the common consensus, and the end of the unity of a social organism. However, the greatest danger for a social or political body lies not in insurrection, not in internal struggle alone, but rather in a split-off, in secession, in falling apart. In the constructions of modern security societies, the threats that can lead to this do not come from outside but instead develop in an excess that is no longer governable, that grows from within protective regulation. This includes everything that falls out of the existing order, an excess of what is to be ordered, an excess of what, to a certain extent, can apparently no longer be regulated or controlled, and consequently no longer governed, and that challenges the normal order.


The Return of Insecurity

In his social-history study From Manual Workers to Wage Laborers, Robert Castel – currently one of the most internationally influential left sociologists of labour – shows that the position in life associated with wage labour was for many centuries one of the most insecure, undignified and wretched. Anyone who ‘slipped down’ into wage labour entered into ‘dependent labour’ and thus into a social position of neediness and reliance on poverty relief. For a long time, wage labour led to poverty, to a state in which one found ‘one’s self subject to the empire of necessity’5 and became aware of precariousness to an extreme degree. Only in the last century, and in most cases not until the beginning of its second half, did European and North American welfare states succeed in removing wage labour from disadvantage, associating it with safeguards against social risks, and thus transforming life under ‘hazardous conditions’6 into a secured life. When Castel speaks of social protection he is envisioning a ‘society of individuals’7 who ‘are legally entitled to minimal social preconditions for their independence’.8 In these manifestations of the welfare state, social independence is inseparably connected with entitlement to social benefits linked to employment. And social independence is to be understood as a safeguarded form of autonomy and relative sovereignty with respect to existential precariousness.

For more than thirty years now, however, according to Castel, we have been faced with the problem of the erosion and increasing fragility of this social-welfare construction. In view of the massive destabilization of wage-labour conditions and the renewed comprehensive subjugation of labour to the laws of the market, Castel maintains that we should speak of a ‘return of insecurity’.9 This is not simply a repetition of the old misery, but rather an insecurity that is newly bound up with wage labour. The independence of the many is at stake here, and with it, society as a whole. To analyse how threatening this social and economic development is, Castel has suggested a three-zone model: between a ‘zone of integration’ and a ‘zone of disaffiliation’ there is an unstable and expanding zone of ‘precarity’, of ‘social vulnerability’.10

As I will show in the following, Castel develops his social theory within the immunological dynamic described above, between protection and threat, security and endangerment. He conceives not only the relationship between individual and society, but also the state, in these relations of tension. The challenge that ‘precarity’ poses for contemporary societies – especially in France and Germany – is described in implicitly biopolitical-immunological terms. Castel’s threat scenario is not only androcentric, as has often been noted from the standpoint of gender studies.11 He understands precarity primarily as a threatening anomie, a potentially destructive process: his argument focuses on the threat of a break-up of society.

It is no coincidence that Castel cites Thomas Hobbes as a modern authority for his historical perspective on social and political insecurities.12 As mentioned earlier, Hobbes was the first modern theorist of the state to legitimize the subjugation of the individual to the rule of the Leviathan with an appeal to the argument of the protection and security of the individual. The deadly equality and freedom characteristic of the natural state were to be ended by way of the promise of protection. Fear of unprotected vulnerability is replaced by fear of the protecting Leviathan.13 Safeguarding from precariousness, which in Hobbes merges with the threatening other, requires obedience to the sovereign. Of course, for Castel, such a state of authoritarian obedience is no model for democratically constituted societies. However, he does take over the idea that the state has to protect the individual, because this is both the price and the opportunity for living independently together in a society,14 and he uses this idea for the contemporary analysis of post-Fordist wage-labour conditions against the backdrop of newly regulated and simultaneously eroded welfare states: ‘It is the collective that protects.’15

For Castel, since the seventeenth century there is ultimately only one thing that has had to be combated in the framework of the various forms of modern European statehood: the insecurity of human existence that evokes the need for safety which emerges, first of all, in ‘security societies’.16 Since the rise of the importance of the individual in modernity, according to Castel, historically specific political, legal and social relations have corresponded to nothing other than the ‘search for systems of protection’.17 Nonetheless, societies that are constituted through relations of protection and security simultaneously engender ‘a feeling of insufficient security’18 – the consciousness of vulnerability emerges through the protection itself, or rather through a protection that is constantly insufficient. All-encompassing security can never be established; any claim to it must always fail, leading to ‘disappointments and even resentments’.19 The highest task of the modern state can therefore not consist in doing away with social and legal insecurities, but rather in ‘taming’ them.20

Castel describes the various forms of this kind of ‘safeguarding construct’21 as if the social position of male citizens applied to all members of a society, failing to reflect on how gendered relations of domination are just as inherent to these male civic positionings as are dominance relationships towards those who do not count as citizens of the state in question. Although Castel does point out that security even for the majority of the population does not mean the end of social inequalities or the establishing of protection among equals,22 he is not particularly interested in the analysis of inequalities. The one who is threatened or protected is, in a direct sense, always the male citizen, the male worker, and the ‘standard worker’s course’23 that posits him as family breadwinner.

Castel does not take into account the fact that this modern citizen and worker was generally only safeguarded by way of the state or the institution through the construction of a protective masculinity in the private sphere. In the domestic community the man as husband was the breadwinner and patriarchal protector of the family, in other words of his wife and children.24 Protective patriarchal masculinities and the correspondingly necessary social and legal guarantee of domination in the private sphere are historically the reverse side of state protection of the modern (male) individual.25 In this kind of tension, the modern ambivalences associated with the need for protection and freedom, with vulnerability and property to be protected, did not apply in particular to those without property, to female citizens or to non-citizens. Inseparably interwoven with the feminized private sphere to be protected, the existential vulnerabilities that modern social and political security techniques are supposed to safeguard against become male-heterosexualized vulnerabilities. The comparable potential vulnerabilities of women (illness, accident, etc.) were generally only indirectly socially safeguarded or protected through the husband as primary earner and thus principally insured person (for example in Germany until the 1970s), and they were linked with a continued feminization of the need for protection. It is not uncommon for modern security discourses at both the public and the private level to still be heteronormatively structured.26 This complexity of state protective constructions and so-called security societies remains obscured in Castel’s analysis. It is precisely against this background, however, that the immunizing logic of his argumentation on ‘precarity’ must be problematized.


The Virus of ‘Precarity’

The great achievement of the welfare state, according to Castel, consisted in its capacity to protect, to a certain degree, even those not safeguarded through property: that unprotected ‘strata of the population’ permanently affected by social insecurity, by unforeseeable dangers such as illness, accident and unemployment, and therefore exposed to the constant danger of poverty. Without such state protection, people are constantly exposed to insecurity as if to a contagious epidemic, as Castel’s wording explicitly suggests: ‘Like a virus that permeates everyday life, dissolving social ties and undermining the physical structures of the individuals, [social insecurity] also has a demoralizing effect as a principal of social dissolution.’27 This reciprocal infection,28 with the virus of the incalculable social vulnerability of individuals and their unsettling dependency on others, is exactly the threat that, to a high degree, constitutes states and societies, which build on protection and securities, as endangerment.29

If the many are contaminated with insecurity, and thus the security of the majority can no longer be guaranteed, then the patterns of legitimizing domination collapse. Immunization through security is endangered if the population is in danger of being infected with insecurity to a certain degree. In a society of wage labour, the welfare state ‘tamed’30 the virus of social vulnerability, largely hindered mutual infection – also as a potentiality for revolt – and immunized against it, so to speak, by managing to get social insecurity under control, which meant ‘efficiently reducing social risks’.31 For the ‘vast majority of the population’32 it became possible to plan for the future, especially because ‘individuals belonged to collective protecting instances’33 which gave rise to social insurance benefits.

In contrast to this, what we are currently experiencing is the ‘return of mass vulnerability’.34 The ‘collective safe-guarding systems . . . – the state and the homogeneous socio-professional groups – have crumbled since the seventies’.35 In his analyses, Castel seeks to ‘take the full measure of the threat of fracture’,36 focusing on the threat due to the ‘return of social insecurity’37 and the renewed outbreak of the virus of potential disintegration that he also calls ‘precarity’ or ‘precarization’. ‘Precarity and precarization thus designate the principles of fracture, which cannot be limited to the lower classes of society.’38 The relatively stable, immunizing welfare state, which protects against social and economic insecurities due to physical injury and social isolation, is crumbling and thus itself becoming precarious. ‘So there are stable situations that are in danger of becoming destabilized. There are situations of vulnerability, in which those affected can more or less hold up for a certain time, but which may also possibly tip.’39

Those who are increasingly in danger of dropping out of protective state regulation, or who have already dropped out, those who in terms of social security seem to be ever less protected in social collectives and thus elude the order of security, are not, according to Castel, to be understood as ‘superfluous’ or even excluded40 – contrary to a discourse that has been clearly evident in the social sciences in recent years.41 He repeatedly rejects analysing the ‘margin’ of the welfare-state order – which he understands in terms of insecurity or ‘precarity’ – as ‘superfluous’. The overflow, what is literally running over, those who are considered superfluous, are not for Castel in an outside state.42 However, as he perceives it, they do threaten the ‘centre’43 – in other words, those who are ‘integrated’ into society, those who belong, the normalized majority who are (still) secured through employment conditions. Infection itself is not the problem: a security society can never completely eliminate the risk of insecurity. The threat to existing relations of domination based on security first arises as a result of excess, of transgressing the limit of the tolerable number of infections. It is this dynamic of the immunization of a normalization society44 upon which Castel’s zone model is based.

Being counted as belonging to an inside or an outside, or counting oneself as such, is not an either-or question for Castel, but involves rather a processual path between zones. Instead of a strict boundary, he envisions a kind of threshold of ambivalence between inclusion and exclusion, between the ‘zone of integration’ and that of ‘disaffiliation’. The ‘intermediate, unstable zone’ is that of ‘precarity’, of insecurity and endangerment.45 ‘Precarity’ corresponds to a ‘new form of insecurity that is highly obligated to the crumbling and dissolution of the protecting structures that had developed within wage-labor society. Consequently one must speak . . . of an insecurity that continues to be surrounded and permeated by structures of safeguarding. The aim is to avoid a disastrous view of things.’46

Castel concedes that ‘precarity’ is not only a phenomenon of the socially weak or the ‘lower classes’, but that there is also ‘a “higher” form of precarity’.47 As an example he refers to ‘the so-called intermittents du spectacle in France – those discontinuously employed in the field of theatre, film and media’. He immediately adds, however, that ‘a precarity of this kind certainly presents itself differently and evokes reactions and modes of behaviour that are different from the precarity in “simple circles”’.48 It is beyond question that hierarchizations and differences among the precarious must be reflected upon. With this line of argument, however, Castel not only isolates the ‘higher’ precarity attributed solely to the middle classes from a different form of ‘precarity’ that applies exclusively to those groups positioned at the margins of society or among the ‘lower classes’. With this separation he also makes the intense engagements and struggles of the intermittents invisible, in a sense, even though they very quickly allied with so-called ‘marginal groups’ to form the Précaires Associés de Paris.49 It is obviously not in Castel’s interest to grasp precarization as a phenomenon that is gradually becoming normalized, that also reaches the ‘centre’, and that can evoke political struggles across the strata of the population. On the contrary, he emphasizes that ‘precarity’ touches ‘especially the most disadvantaged strata. Particularly here there is a danger that it could become a permanent condition of life’50 and lead to a ‘disaffiliation’, to ‘successively leaving those affected behind . . . which can push them over the edge of society’.51

Castel’s destabilized zone of ‘precarity’ is not one that automatically and inevitably leads in the direction of disaffiliation and finally to a break, a secession from society. Yet the threat is obvious due to the lack of protection evident in a situation of ‘vulnerability’. It is not clear whether the domestication and taming of those rendered insecure will be possible again as healing52 through integration, or whether the collective protection of the majority through immunization will become possible again. Castel is not concerned with just re-establishing the old safeguarding conditions, but rather with the new conditions that will have to be invented: a reconceptualization of protection and security that is no longer oriented to groups and collectives, but more towards the pluralism of individuals. Without systematically explaining the notion, Castel maintains that this calls for a ‘strategic state’,53 within the framework of which wage labour must be secured.54 Consequently, those affected by ‘precarity’ must be led back, as far as possible, into the zone of integration. If, on the other hand, they tend more to the social situation of disaffiliation, then they are not only close to being excluded, they could even bring down the entire social assemblage.

The stability of welfare-state protection never exists equally for all,55 but it regulates a normalized majority society that has now become fearful in Castel’s threat scenario. He considers precarization less as a phenomenon that affects current industrial capitalist societies in different ways as normality, instead seeing society threatened more by the danger that the virus of insecurity could increasingly eat its way into the centre, into the zone of integration. In the imaginary architecture of his zone model, it is evident that Castel is always concerned also with the endangerment and insecurity of the integrated, participating, majority middle class, which seems to be threatened by the margins heavily affected by ‘precarity’, looking their own vulnerability, their precariousness, in the eye. It is from the peripheries, from the marginalized – and Castel includes among these not only the ‘white lower class’ but also the residents of the banlieues – that the break, the secession, the disintegration of society threatens.56

Castel criticizes the demonizing and stigmatizing of youth from the banlieues as a new ‘dangerous class’ as an ‘abridgement’, in which ‘everything that a society holds as a threat is projected onto specific groups at its margins’, and which does not contribute at all to solving the ‘problem of insecurity’.57 But his own threat scenario, which focuses on the lack of integration of the purported social margins due to precarious working conditions, fears the breakdown of society starting specifically from these ‘margins’. For Castel, ‘precarity’ is the threat that endangers the immunizing social safeguarding of the male citizen, making him socially vulnerable and precarious in new and old ways at the same time. If the break-up of society, the secession or defection of certain of its parts, is to be warded off, then an antidote for rampant ‘precarity’ must be found. In Castel’s logic, this antidote would consist in a securing integration that neutralizes the danger and the participation of those endangered by social insecurities. Against the background of current integration debates,58 his argument for more integration is not an unequivocally conservative model that fears the loss of hegemony of the national-ethnicized majority society, but it does imagine a white majority social middle that should prove itself a pluralistic republic by ensuring active integration and thus warding off and combating ‘precarity’.59 The ‘disaffiliation’ of those who prove to be incapable of integration would then no longer threaten the cohesiveness of society as a whole. In this kind of domination-securing dynamic that I have called ‘biopolitical immunization’, security is to be achieved in a twofold way, in order to stabilize and heal the constantly contaminated self: It occurs through the integration of those ‘others’ who can be neutralized, in other words domesticated, as well as through the exclusion or rejection of the ‘foreigner’ who cannot be integrated.60

Regulating risks depends on a tolerable measure of insecurity. If contingency and unpredictability become dominant, then governmental security societies become ever harder to govern. Even if modern security techniques no longer have to operate primarily through social homogenization and fixed stabilizations, excessive unpredictability remains a potential threat to be taken seriously. Any weakening in the dynamic of this kind of biopolitical figure of the immune always invites the exaggerated rhetoric of an impending disaster or looming downfall, unless there is a prospect of a renewed immunization. Social-science arguments that make use of an immunological paradigm thus frequently legitimize the re-stabilization of presumably unregulatable conditions that have become unstable, thus overlooking the potential for emancipatory social change that can arise specifically from these kinds of fractures.

Castel is not wholly wrong in his view of precarity and precarization as eating their way into the entire society like a highly contagious virus that can lead to tumult. The reasons for the inflammatory viral infection, however, are no longer to be found (only) in the unreasonable political and economic impositions to which the marginalized are subject, but consist rather in the normalization of precarization throughout the whole of society, and which therefore require responses other than an increase in integration. There is no longer a centre or a middle that could be imagined as a society stable enough to take in those pushed to the margins. In the context of the current economic and political crises it is no longer sufficient to demand an equal, pluralistic society on republican foundations.61 Contemporary political and economic conditions in the (post-)industrial nations are enraging more and more people across almost all sections of society, as conditions for work, residence and education become increasingly unacceptable. It remains to be seen, however, to what extent the political protests repeatedly triggered by precarization remain only endemic or whether they might become global and pandemic. What is obvious is that the contemporary normalization of precarization substantially challenges established forms of politics. It is not only the capitalist mode of production that finds itself in a special crisis; the fundamental crisis of modes of political representation also becomes conspicuous.62

1 The use of ‘precarity’ in quotation marks designates the term as used solely in a negative sense in precarization research in the social sciences, in the following primarily in the line of research taken by Robert Castel. Castel himself uses both ‘precarity’ and ‘precarization’ without defining a difference. The term precarity, as used here in the assemblage of the precarious as an ordering category of othering (which is not to be understood without negative components), will appear in the following without quotation marks.
2 Cf. the lecture given by Bourdieu in 1997, ‘La précarité est aujourd’hui partout’, in Contre-feux, and the book published by Castel in French already in 1995, From Manual Workers to Wage Laborers.
3 Birgit Sauer, ‘Von der Freiheit auszusterben. Neue Freiheiten im Neoliberalismus?’, in Marlen Bidwell-Steiner and Ursula Wagner, eds, Freiheit und Geschlecht. Offene Beziehungen–Prekäre Verhältnisse, Innsbruck: Studien Verlag, 2008, pp. 17–31, here p. 18; cf. also Aldo Legnaro, ‘Aus der neuen Welt. Freiheit, Furcht und Strafe als Trias der Regulation’, Leviathan. Berliner Zeitschrift für Sozialwissenschaft 2 (2000), pp. 202–20.
4 Cf. Lorey, Figuren des Immunen, pp. 260–80.
5 Castel, From Manual Workers to Wage Laborers, p. xiii.
6 Ibid.
7 Castel, L’insécurité sociale, p. 90.
8 Ibid.
9 Castel, ‘Die Wiederkehr der sozialen Unsicherheit’.
10 Cf. among others, Castel, From Manual Workers to Wage Laborers, pp. xv–xvi.
11 Cf. Brigitte Aulenbacher, ‘Die soziale Frage neu gestellt – Gesellschaftsanalysen der Prekarisierungs- und Geschlechterforschung’, in Castel and Dörre, eds, Prekarität, pp. 65–80; Hildegard Maria Nickel, ‘Die “Prekarier” – eine soziologische Kategorie? Anmerkungen zu einer geschlechtersoziologischen Perspektive’, in Castel and Dörre, eds, Prekarität, pp. 209–18; Susanne Völker, ‘“Entsicherte Verhältnisse” – Impulse des Prekarisierungsdiskurses für eine geschlechtersoziologische Zeitdiagnose’, in Brigitte Aulenbacher and Angelika Wetterer, eds, Arbeit. Perspektiven und Diagnosen der Geschlechterforschung, Münster: Westfälisches Dampfboot, 2009, pp. 268–86.
12  Cf. Castel, L’insécurité sociale, pp. 13–15.
13  Cf. Lorey, Figuren des Immunen, pp. 243–8.
14 Castel considers independence and autonomy as the founda- tion not only for social security but also for the constitutional security of citizens that was already inherent to Hobbes’ conception, taken as the inviolability of property and of person (cf. Castel, L’insécurité sociale, p. 93).
15  Castel, ‘Die Wiederkehr der sozialen Unsicherheit’, p. 23.
16  Cf. Castel, L’insécurité sociale, pp. 7 and 58–62.
17  Ibid., p. 7.
18  Ibid., p. 8.
19  Ibid. Castel describes ‘collective resentments’ (Castel, L’insécurité sociale, p. 49) and racist attitudes of those belonging to the French majority society. He says that the white lower class, the petits blancs (ibid., p. 52) look for scapegoats for the worsening of their social situation and project social conflicts onto directly neighbouring social groups (cf. ibid., p. 51), often onto the differently ethnicized and racialized residents of the banlieues. Castel also repeats this line of argument elsewhere (cf. Castel, ‘Die Wiederkehr der Unsicherheit’, p. 32).
20  Cf. Castel, ‘Die Wiederkehr der Unsicherheit’, p. 23.
21  Castel, L’insécurité sociale, p. 15.
22  Castel, ‘Die Wiederkehr der Unsicherheit’, p. 24.
23  Ilona Ostner, ‘Individualization, Breadwinner Norms, and Family Obligations. Gender Sensitive Concepts in Comparative Welfare’, FREIA-Papers 38, 1996, p. 1, available at
24 In one passage Castel even points out that women, children and servants were protected ‘in the patriarchally organized family’, but the price for this protection was their ‘profound dependency’ (Castel, L’insécurité sociale, p. 90), so that they were consequently unfree in protection. However, this did not move him to systematically include these gender- and class-specific dependencies in his analysis.
25 Cf., among others, Cornelia Klinger, ‘Krise war immer . . . Lebenssorge und geschlechtliche Arbeitsteilungen in sozialphilosophischer und kapitalismuskritischer Perspektive’, in Erna Appelt, Brigitte Aulenbacher and Angelika Wetterer, eds, Gesellschaft. Feministische Krisendiagnosen, Münster: Westfälisches Dampfboot, 2013, pp. 82–104.
26 Cf. Iris Marion Young, ‘The Logic of Masculinist Protection: Reflections on the Current Security State’, Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 1 (2003), p. 1–25.
27  Castel, L’insécurité sociale, p. 29.
28  Cf. Castel, From Manual Workers to Wage Laborers, p. 416.
29  Cf. Roberto Esposito, Immunitas: The Protection and Negation of Life, Cambridge: Polity Press, 2011.
30  Castel, ‘Die Wiederkehr der Unsicherheit’, p. 23.
31  Castel, L’insécurité sociale, p. 34, emphasis in the original.
32  Castel, ‘Die Wiederkehr der Unsicherheit’, p. 24.
33  Cf. Castel, L’insécurité sociale, p. 37.
34  Castel, From Manual Workers to Wage Laborers, p. 445.
35  Castel, L’insécurité sociale, p. 40.
36  Castel, From Manual Workers to Wage Laborers, p. xiv, emphasis added.
37 Castel, ‘Die Wiederkehr der Unsicherheit’.
38  Ibid., p. 31, emphasis added.
39  Ibid., p. 29.
40  Cf. Robert Castel, ‘Die Fallstricke des Exklusionsbegriffs’, trans. Gustav Roßler, in Heinz Bude and Andreas Willisch, eds, Exklusion. Die Debatte über die ‘Überflüssigen’, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 2008, pp. 69–86, and Castel, ‘Die Wiederkehr der Unsicherheit’.
41  Cf. Bude and Willisch, eds, Exklusion.
42  Cf. Castel, ‘Die Fallstricke des Exklusionsbegriffs’, and Castel, ‘Die Wiederkehr der Unsicherheit’.
43 Castel, From Manual Workers to Wage Laborers, p. xxiii.
44  Cf. Lorey, Figuren des Immunen, pp. 260–80.
45  Castel, From Manual Workers to Wage Laborers, p. xvi.
46  Castel, ‘Die Wiederkehr der Unsicherheit’, p. 27, emphasis in the original.
47 Ibid., p. 32.
48 Ibid.
49 Cf. Précaires Associés de Paris, ‘Éléments de propositions pour un régime solidaire de l’assurance chômage des salaries à l’emploi discontinu’, June 2003, available at; GlobalProject/Coordination des Intermittents et Précaires d’Ile de France, ‘Spectacle Inside the State and Out. Social Rights and the Appropriation of Public Spaces: The Battles of the French Intermittents’, trans. Aileen Derieg, transversal: ‘Precariat’ (July 2004), available at; Antonella Corsani, ‘“What We Defend, We Defend For Everyone”: Traces of History in Motion’, trans. Mary O’Neill, transversal: ‘On Universalism’ (June 2007), available at http://; Antonella Corsani and Maurizio Lazzarato, Intermittents et précaires, Paris: Éditions Amsterdam, 2008; Maurizio Lazzarato, ‘Die Dynamik des politischen Ereignisses. Subjektivierungsprozesse und Mikropolitik’, trans. Stefan Nowotny, in Isabell Lorey, Roberto Nigro, and Gerald Raunig, eds, Inventionen 1: Gemeinsam. Prekär. Potentia. Kon-/Disjunktion. Ereignis. Transversalität. Queere Assemblagen, Zurich: Diaphanes, 2011, pp. 161–74. The collective Précaires Associés de Paris is an alliance of intermittents, unemployed people and trade-union groups. Starting in 2002 they carried out occupation actions for several years ‘to open up a space of reflection and discussion to everyone affected, to ensure that the voices of the precarious are heard, and to fight for new social rights together’ (Précaires Associés de Paris, ‘Éléments de propositions’). In addition, there were expressions of solidarity with Sans-Papiers organizations at demonstrations, such as on 8 July 2003 in Paris.
50  Castel, ‘Die Wiederkehr der Unsicherheit’, p. 31.
51  Ibid., p. 29. The term ‘leave behind’ (in German abhängen) is associated with the construction of the ‘precariat left behind’ in discussions in German. This goes back to a controversial study by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, associated with the German Social-Democratic Party, from 2006. As a result of this study, terms like ‘precariat’ and ‘precarity’ were used for the first time in bourgeois media and by political actors, but only – entirely in keeping with the study – to mark new constructions of the ‘lower classes’ (Unterschichten). Cf. Frank Karl, Gesellschaft im Reformprozess, Studie der Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, Bonn, 2006; critical responses include: Claudio Altenhain et al., eds, Von ‘Neuer Unterschicht’ und Prekariat. Gesellschaftliche Verhältnisse und Kategorien im Umbruch. Kritische Perspektiven auf aktuelle Diskurse, Bielefeld: transcript, 2008.
52 This is an allusion to a buried etymological meaning of the German word heilen [on which the English word ‘heal’ is based: translator’s note], which can mean not only ‘healthy’, ‘whole’ and ‘uninjured’, but also had the connotation, beginning in the fifteenth century, of ‘to castrate’, ‘tame’ and ‘make useable’, ‘to remove the wildness’. Cf. Etymologisches Wörterbuch der deutschen Sprache, ed. Friedrich Kluge, revised by Elmar Seebold, 24th edition, Berlin, New York: Walter de Gruyter, 2002, p. 402.
53  Castel, From Manual Workers to Wage Laborers, p. 443.
54  Cf. Castel, L’insécurité sociale, p. 86.
55  On the ‘golden age’ of Fordism, which primarily kept ‘privileged mainstream workers’ – who were white, male and/or positioned in a national-ethnicized way – in secured working conditions in the US, Europe and Japan, and discriminated against everyone else, see Nancy Ettlinger, ‘Precarity Unbound’, Alternatives. Global, Local, Political 32 (2007), pp. 319–40, here pp. 322–3.
56 Cf. Castel, L’insécurité sociale, pp. 52–6; Robert Castel, La discrimination négative. Citoyens ou indigènes?, Paris: Seuil, 2007. For a different reading of the events in the Paris banlieues in Autumn 2005, which emphasizes the post-Fordist construction of unproductivity in the context of precarity, see Judith Revel, ‘De la vie en milieu précaire (ou: comment en finir avec la vie nue)’, Multitudes 27 (2007), available at
57 Castel, L’insécurité sociale, pp. 53, 54 and 89.
58 Cf. Sabine Hess, Jana Binder, and Johannes Moser, eds, No Integration?! Kulturwissenschaftliche Beiträge zur Integrationsdebatte in Europa, Bielefeld: transcript, 2009. Serhat Karakayali points out that the ‘migrants that are meant in the integration debate . . . are seen as a problem, specifically because they are not recognizable outside . . . The integration issue deals much more with social deviance and its domestication.’ Serhat Karakayali, ‘Paranoic Integrationism. Die Integrationsformel als unmöglicher (Klassen-)Kompromiss’, in ibid., pp. 95–103, here p. 101.
59 Cf. Castel, La discrimination négative, pp. 100–12.
60 Cf. Lorey, Figuren des Immunen, pp. 260–80. The dynamic of biopolitical immunization also includes the identity-logic construction of invulnerability, which is often linked with notions of superiority and sovereignty (cf. Lorey, ‘Weißsein und die Auffaltung des Immunen’).

Isabell Lorey is a Political Theorist at the European Institute of Progressive Cultural Policies (epic) in Berlin and Professor at the Institute of Political Science, University of Kassel.




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