For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"Glimpses of resistance: Entrepreneurial subjectivity and freelance journalist work"

by Norbäck, Maria (2019)


New precarious work practices are emerging in the post-industrial labor market together with subjects that are fit to cope with them. The literature on neoliberal governmentality theorizes how individuals are made to embrace a subjectivity that enforces competition, personal responsibility, and autonomy. However, few studies so far have investigated how such subjectivities may be resisted. Building on a study of freelance journalists, this article investigates the question of resistance. Although these professionals are indeed governed by a neoliberal regime, the findings illustrate how they also attempt to resist by enacting alternative subjectivities. The freelance journalists engage in resistance by organizing professional communities and boycotting exploitative copyright contracts, reduce and refuse work, lower the quality on delivered jobs, and quit freelance journalism altogether. By doing so, they refuse personal responsibility for their situation, they spend their time not generating economic value, and they enact a subjectivity of collaborator rather than competitor. This study thus illustrates how individuals who are poised to embrace a subjectivity as ?entrepreneurial subjects par excellence? are, despite everything, still able to engage in practices that constitute subject positions that denaturalize and challenge entrepreneurial subjectivity, even if the immediate outcomes of such resistance may be ambiguous at best. The study adds to the recent literature on resistance, particularly to the discussion about what it is one resists and against whom resistance is aimed, by showing how more traditional notions of resistance may intermingle and interact with more recent ideas related to refusal and exit movements.

Key Passage

Even before neoliberal became a mainstream concept, Foucault (2008) argued that it would come to regulate not only the economic system, but that it would permeate our very souls. Under neoliberal governmentality, individuals are governed according to economic principles under which all aspects of life are ruled by economic values. In Foucault’s (2008) words, ‘the individual’s life itself’ is constituted as ‘a sort of permanent and multiple enterprise’ (p. 241). As a result of this new mode of being, workers are no longer molded into submissive ‘docile bodies’ without agency (Foucault, 1977), but rather agentic subjects ready and willing to constantly work to improve their value in the marketplace. By fostering such entrepreneurial subjects, power and control stop being things that are operated via means of punishment but, instead, are transformed into a seemingly positive biopower over life itself, because power and control are directed not at what one cannot do, but rather at what one can do. Life becomes an infinite bundle of (economic) opportunities and possibilities; it is up to the individual to make the most of these possibilities. In a post-industrial, liquefied (Bauman, 2000; Deuze, 2011), marketized era where labor is increasingly precarious (Vosko, 2010) and practiced in external labor markets (O’Mahony and Bechky, 2006), neoliberal discourses ‘have a productive effect on their own, in that they create the kinds of individuals needed to function in a precarious economy’ (Vallas and Christin, 2018: 8). (p.4)


Foucault, Resistance, Responsibility, Entrepreneurial, Journalism, Refusal, Refuse Work, Neoliberalism


On Foucault, Foucault

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