"... the figure of the artist or creative worker has been emblematic of the experience of precarity: negotiating short-term, insecure, poorly paid, precarious work in conditions of structural uncertainty."
So, all along, this conference has potentially been less about all those global issues that are listed on the conference site and more about the struggles I've had this year as a freelancer. Imagine that. There's a body of research corroborating the experiences I've had as I've waited for work to come in, staring at the wall then jumping into a frenzy of activity, not seeing distinctions between work time and other time, seizing every opportunity to work, grappling with the distinction between self-expression and self-exploitation, and seeing socializing as a necessary disciplinary technology to increase likelihood of work. I could have written about my own evolving relations with my diminishing capital and increasing anxiety, my obsessive attachment to my doctoral applications, my fixation on my health insurance, my well-educated and joyful "elected" poverty. Precarity isn't my past -- it's my present. And it is the present for many people in my community I didn't really have a perspective on how and whether it could be different. My work is the technique and spectacle and performance of pleasurable feelings, both on stage for the audience and off stage for each other -- for insecure wages without benefits. The piece in the "On Precarity" issue of Theory, Culture, & Society could be written about me. Footnoted and referenced and contextualized, it's a detailed and all-too-lucid picture of my current world.
When will I stop feeling like the object of other people's research? When will the musician's experience working as a musician be considered valid, and not have to be reviewed in the Times or theorized on by humanities scholars? It's so uncomfortable to be carrying on with my life and suddenly feel scrutinized, like the chance to observe me working "in the field" will illuminate some point for some greater mind about the wider conditions of capitalism or historical performance or gender or Bach? It's obnoxious, to read something that recognizes me so clearly, that acknowledges my experiences, but writes people like me out of the story altogether. Only the theorists produce the knowledge in Theory, Culture, & Society: culture and society -- and the people who make culture and society -- are patiently present and waiting to be theorized upon.