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

So, if biopower works through such ‘positive’ means as autonomy and supposed self-realization, how can it be resisted? McNay (2009) stated that from a biopower perspective, traditional liberal ideas concerning both control and resistance become outdated, as discipline and freedom become ‘intrinsically connected’ (p. 63). However, scholars interested in Foucauldian notions of subjectivity argued that the ongoing constitution of subjectivity is precisely where resistance and struggle take place, as the subject is never completely constrained. To see subjectivity as the site of struggle, however, makes the target of resistance problematic: against what or who is such resistance directed? Traditionally, the literature on resistance in work settings focused on what has been called ‘recognition’ politics (Courpasson, 2017; Fleming, 2016), as those resisting want to be recognized by those in power in order to improve their situation. However, recently there has been an increased interest in ‘post-recognition’ politics (Fleming, 2016; Fleming and Spicer, 2016; Mumby et al., 2017), which is not about directing one’s resistance toward any particular party, but rather about exit, escape, and refusal to participate in whatever one resists. This also means that resistance will undoubtedly take more varied forms than the traditional forms of work resistance (such as strikes and traditionally organized collective action) and involve forms of ‘infrapolitics’ (Mumby et al., 2017) in which resistance is more mundane, low profile, and less internally coherent and purposive. Scholars of subjectivity and resistance argued that one must acknowledge that resistance may even contribute to or reinforce the current order as resistance and consent are ‘inextricably and simultaneously linked’ (Collinson, 1994: 29) and ‘resistance frequently contains elements of consent and consent often incorporates aspects of resistance’ (Dick and Hyde, 2006: 555). Some of the empirical studies of freelance work were very pessimistic about the possibility of even such ambiguous resistance to entrepreneurial subjectivity. In Moisander et al. (2017) and Scharff’s (2016) studies of freelance workers, there were few signs of any sort of resistance or any imagination for something different (Townley, 1993). For these workers, to voice negativity or see things as problematic was framed as a personal failure. Studies of freelance work thus show how difficult it seems for free agents to resist the ‘positive’ mechanisms of biopower from their subject positions as freelancers. In Moisander et al.’s (2017) study, it is not until workers quit that they are able to voice critique. However, some empirical studies illustrated how freelance workers under neoliberal governmentality do in fact engage in resistance. Similar to previous studies within the critical management tradition focusing on ‘micro-resistance’ (Fleming, 2013), these studies showed the ambiguities of resistance. This is not only because biopower offers both subjugation and freedom but also because of the often unclear impact of practices that can be conceptualized as resisting, as these resistance practices may have little immediate and unclear effects on the actual economic power structures. (p.5)


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


On Foucault, Foucault

Links to Reference



How to contribute.