In the past I have recommended the Wikipedia entry on Precarity to my students as a jumping off point for their research into the idea, but I cannot continue to do so in good conscience so long as this entry remains in its present form. (Here is something I have written on the topic myself.)
Someone objected that the old article was wrong to state that the term "precarity" was first used in the year 2000, when we clearly find the term already in use before that, as in "the widely circulated article by the famous American Catholic social activist Dorothy Day, 'Poverty and Precarity,' published in The Catholic Worker newspaper in May 1952."
Now, I may be a crusty atheist, but I am a huge fan of Dorothy Day and I actually found it enormously useful to direct people's attention to this historical context.
Unfortunately, the interventions into the article inspired by this move went far beyond registering Day's contribution to the broadest construal of Precarity discourse. Now when one goes to the article one is told that Precarity is a "theological" term. It is connected in a sidebar to "Christianity" and described as "Part of a series of articles on Christianity," under which one finds a huge black crucifix. The first section of the article is now entitled "Catholic Origins."
It is only once we reach paragraph three (still mysteriously included under the heading of Catholic Origins) that we are informed:
Precarity is a general term to describe how large parts of the population are being subjected to flexible exploitation or flexploitation (low pay, high blackmailability, intermittent income, etc.), and existential precariousness (high risk of social exclusion because of low incomes, welfare cuts, high cost of living, etc.) The condition of precarity is said to affect all of service labor in a narrow sense, and the whole of society in a wider sense, but particularly youth, women, and immigrants.
This is the useful general description with which the article used to begin. When Mike Davis discusses informalization or Naomi Klein discusses disaster capitalism one wonders if anybody in their right mind seriously imagines that this is exclusively or primarily a "Christian topic"?
The author of these changes responded to my expressed concerns on this question by saying "I think you may have had a point, were it not for the fact that the promotion of San Precario has very much reinforced this Christian aspect[.]" Presumably, then, I don't have a point, after all? Surely it matters that "the promotion of San Precario" to which the critic refers is, at least in some conspicuous instances, obviously parodic, an iconic representation of a fast-food worker on his knees in his dumpy uniform? (Contemplate, if you will, the image at the head of this blog-post.) Surely this easily owes as much to the prankster-politics of Situationism as to the pious politics of Catholicism?
Surely, the centrality of May Day in Precarity protests should at least give this critic pause before denying I "have a point" here? If one follows the actual links in this entry to the actual political organizing inspired by the idea of a Revolutionary Precariat it takes no time at all to realize that this is not a movement defined by Christianity, but by the global struggle for democracy and against neoliberalism, a struggle that is not remotely subsumable under Christianity, given the role of non-Christian people of faith, the role of secular multiculturalists, the role of materialist socialists, and so on in these struggles.
I do not mean to suggest by all this that Precarity is anti-Christian in some way, nor that the contribution of Christianity to Precarity discourse and protest should not be affirmed better than it was in the original article. I recognize the contribution critics have made in pointing out the role of Dorothy Day and other Christians in the formation of this movement, but to subsume Precarity under "Christianity" still seems to me a rather breathtaking overreach to the cost of all sense.