The Rise of the European Self-Employed Workforce, Milan-Udine: Mimesis International, 2018; 262 pp.: ISBN 8869770648, 19 [pounds sterling] (pbk)
Sergio Bologna's political and intellectual formation took place within the 'operaisti' or 'workerists', a diverse group of intellectuals and activists who elaborated a sophisticated analysis of the transformation of the working class between the 1960s and the 1980s as well as of capital in front of working-class activism. Bologna was one of the leading figures of the review Primo Maggio, which posited a historical perspective on questions such as monetary policy, the decline of Fordism, the emerging social subjectivities and the prospects of class politics.
Many of these themes are reprised in this book, a collection of essays that Bologna published between 1997 and 2017 on the subject of freelance and self-employed workers. Here, he pursues operaisti's long-standing interest in the transformation of work and in the emergence of new articulations of the working class. These essays veer from the historical to the theoretical, and lay out the basis for the political work ahead, or at least for a form of collective mobilisation, which has so far proved elusive to freelancers.
The first, and strongest, long essay of the collection, 'For an Anthropology of the Self-Employed Worker' attempts a genealogy of this figure. Bologna confronts the history of the social and cultural composition of this stratum, as studied, for instance, by German-speaking sociologists and economists in the interwar period, such as Emil Lederer, Theodor Geiger and Hans Spier.
Emil Lederer, in his 1912-1914 writings, tackled the transformation that he observed in the rapid shift from self-employment to salaried employment, at a time of the inception and then the rapid spread of Taylorism and Fordism. The independent worker (Lederer had in mind one who owned the means of production and generated income on the basis of those) experienced life as a whole, with work being in a continuum with other aspects of life, such as family. On the contrary, the factory worker typically alternated work with periods of unemployment due to company failures or economic crises. Alienation and atomisation were characteristics of the type of work (salaried) that he saw on the rise, in a process that flowed from independence to non-independence. While Lederer's idea of the self-employed workers is far removed from one that we would...