English 9147B

Precarity: Reading Risk and Responsibility in the Shadow of Neoliberalism

Professor P. Wakeham
Winter Half Course.

What does it mean to be precariously situated in the contemporary era? How is precarity produced, lived, felt, and distributed across populations, communities, and environments? Who or what may be said to be particularly prone to precarity today? This course will investigate precarity’s discursive, material, ontological, and affective contours in the shadow of neoliberalism. With the decline of Keynesian economics and the globalizing but variegated spread of neoliberal market principles since the 1970s, class disparities have intensified, planetary power asymmetries have been exacerbated through the fragmentation and outsourcing of labour and the search for new sites of resource extraction, and religious and racialized populations have become targeted in the name of intensified forms of securitization. Despite these ever-widening chasms of inequity, structural conditions underpinning “the unequal distribution of life and death, of hope and harm, and of endurance and exhaustion” (Povinelli 3) have often been occluded by neoliberalism’s privatization of risk and responsibility and economic rationalization of chronic forms of lethality that “patiently dispense their harm outside…the purview of a spectacle-driven corporate media” (Nixon 6).  

Such conditions of obfuscation necessitate new analytics for tracing current arrangements of power and for making precarity’s multiple modalities visible. This course seeks to assemble such an analytic toolkit by putting the critical and creative resources provided by cultural theorists and cultural producers into conversation in order to attend to a range of intersecting forms of precarity—vulnerable bodies, communities, environments, and knowledges. In so doing, we will seek to better apprehend conditions of precarity and to imagine new methods for attaining social justice.

View the course syllabus here: English 9147B. PDF download