Pandemic Precarity Exposes Need for New Psychology of Work

A recent study on precarity during the pandemic highlights the need for a new psychology of work for our current historical moment.

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Work, for many of us, dominates our waking lives. So why isn’t our (often precarious) relationship to labor and capital central to psychological theory? The authors of a new study on precarity during the COVID-19 pandemic argue that we ought to center these relationships within a new psychology of work.

Precarity causes disruption and anxiety, which differentially impacts people across contexts. While precarity has always been disproportionately distributed among populations according to race, class, and gender, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the severity of uncertainty and loss, especially in the context of employment and aid.

In this qualitative study, the authors sought to identify how people understand and resist precarity and to explore the potential of precarity to serve as an organizing concept for psychological praxis and research. Drawing upon a content analysis from a study of 27 respondents, the authors argue that psychological theories can be enriched by the concepts of work and precarity. They write:

“We propose that an intentional inclusion of precarity, which has been used extensively in non-psychological social sciences and humanities, can enhance understanding of how people face and resist vulnerability and structural oppression.”

A businessman runs to overcome difficult obstaclesPoverty and material precarity have been consistently linked with suboptimal outcomes with respect to cognition and overall health. Childhood poverty in particular has been linked with psychological and cognitive effects: a 2015 study led by the NIH found that children growing up in poverty are more likely to experience neurological impairments. Financial precarity shapes how children think about themselves, and children who transition into poverty during childhood are likely to experience behavioral problems and worsened mental health.

To understand the nature of precarity in individual psychology, the study asked participants to share their experiences of disruptions in their work lives. Work-related disruptions during the pandemic have included unemployment, underemployment, increased remote work, and dangerous work conditions, which in turn have affected social relationships.

“By centering the role of precarity during the pandemic,” the authors note, “we hope to deepen existing knowledge about the ways in which people face and resist the stress, uncertainty, and existential threats that have defined not just the COVID-19 health crisis, but also the past few decades of harsh hegemony within many communities across the globe.”

Three notable themes emerged from this research illustrating how the pandemic influenced the participants’ work, well-being, relationships, and coping strategies. First, disruptions at work elevated participants’ precarity. Second, relationships were a source of both precarity-responsive stress and resilience or resistance. Finally, participants’ expanding critical consciousness were important in resisting and responding to precarity. Specifically, participants reported realizations of social class privilege; heightened awareness of racial inequality; and knowledge of government systems and responsibilities.

In all, the results center on precarity as an organizing construct in psychology, particularly within social justice discourses. As the authors stress:

“Precarity is a complex, multifaceted phenomenon that reflects the human impact of disruption, existential threat, uncertainty, and instability… [it] provides rich explanations of marginalization and oppression based on the fact that vulnerabilities are differentially distributed across intersections of social identity. Precarity reflects the dynamic process of people striving for stability and connection.”

Because resistance to precarity involves psychological, political, and social actions that are directed toward protecting people and changing systems, the awareness of one’s precarious life can be immobilizing, but it also can engender resistance:

Amidst the anguish and distress of precarity that the participants conveyed, they also identified means of resisting that optimally serve as the foundation for individual and collective actions to repair the very real threats posed by this period of precarity.”

 

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Blustein, D., et al. (2022). “Like a tsunami coming in fast”: A critical qualitative study of precarity and resistance during the pandemic.” Journal of Counseling Psychology (in press). DOI:10.1037/cou0000615

8 COMMENTS

  1. It is important that we fight against this idea of precarity being used to extend the mental health paradigm into yet another arena. We want to remedy the power imbalances and unworkable economic situations which cause precarity, not to invent another reason that people should be answering depression questionnaires and sitting in their therapist’s office and disclosing their most personal affairs.

    Joshua

  2. My first job had a lady boss with eyes like cold brown pebbles. The only time they lit up was when she was fervid at saving the job. She accomplished this miserable task by telling me to use a toothbrush to wick away particles of dust on glitzy cut crystal drink decanters. Hundreds of engraved bottles and vases on glass shelves. She had me squeeze myself into a glass display case that turned carousel slow, so that collisions of glass ornaments piled up in my hair. She had long discussions with me on greasy thumb prints. I had to zap them quick as the tongue of a chameleon. She thought I was pretty and once or twice preened my outfit like I was one of her best sellers.

    Being schizophrenic is a full time job. It is a perpetual lockdown, lock in, lock jaw. It is hard brutal work because it brings its own hallucinated bosses to your buttons to tell you that you did them all “wrong”.

    I am sure I irk some people by talking about my schizophrenia, and I must say I do get caught up in the antipsychiatry dispute. The row.

    But I hope that some people who hurl decayed fruit at my schizo kimono will one day remember what sounding eccentric goes like, so that in future they too can be adorned by such a kimono of their own, when the world grows decidedly colder towards ANYONE with ANY “free choice” to be who they are.

    I have seen the future.

    It is lovely.

    But before it comes there will be many who do not want anyone to enjoy their freedom to just be who ever they are. They will use “logic” to bewilder. I am not talking about any one group. It will be everywhere. Like a metaphorical virus. One that disables your OWN KNOWING. A virus that masquerades as love and liberty.

    I am not talking about the government or things like psychiatry or the usual…rather I mean “a mindset” that is taking over. It is alluring and cathartic and leads humanity in tough direction. But it is better to reserve yourself for yourself and not get swept up.

    The future will sort it all out. The future will be good. But until then worries about climate change and extreme “rationalism” will dominate more than simple love.

  3. Ps. I am going but just on my way out of the door that keeps revolving I want to say something (in addition to my earlier comment made today in the eugenics article…click on my name here to find what I said).

    The word “work” is as facinating as the word “healing”. Increasingly these two words are combined. But since “work” often involves “doing stuff” and so it may involve rules and logic and reason and a tendency to be a puppet on a string, this can pull into “healing” a level of over emphasis on agenda and being “right”, if not “righteous, and such “logic” can easily build into bullying.
    Until the “healing” is supposed to only be recognizable if it HURTS and BULLIES you and damages you. For your own good. A series of LESSONS of a logical sort to make you not YOU, since YOU are obviously the “reason” why you are unhealed.

    It is palmed off as a nannying form of healing WORK. But it is a wizardry that makes the healer the WORKER. The doer to the done to. The “logic stuffed knower”. The biblical expert at healing whatever you have “WRONG” with you, your LAZINESS.

    All feelings to the outside eye are called lazy or self indulgence. Since feelings do not DO ANYTHING. Feelings just BE.

    Feelings are deemed NOT WORK. And yet there IS NO HEALING GREATER than to just feel whatever you feel. So in that sense FEELINGS HEAL the world. When everyone is feeling their feelings and feeling better from it. Happy people spread happiness. Well people spread wellness.
    If you want a well world allow your acceptance of your true feelings to be that WORK.
    Your own feelings are your healer.

    But because society is rife with misery from endemic bullying, that itself often arises from the overawed reception of “rationalism” to the cold exclusion of emotion, each person thinks they have to bully or be bullied. Until any person becoming bullying becomes a defensive stance the moment they introduce themselves to a total stranger.

    Before you leave home you don bullying “rightness” like it is an all weather rain proof mac. Looking good by sounding “logical” is the only way you think you will be left in peace to simply feel the feelings. So you must foist your erudite rationalism on anyone and everyone to prove yourself “right” to have “feelings”. Emotions that are neither “right” nor “wrong” but just ARE.

    I think antipsychiatry can get swallowed up in this pressure filled need to turn mass healing into WORK.

    I said before that MIA could become a lovely BELIEF.

    I meant it.

    The beauty of being a belief is that it does not have to get swallowed up in the belief that is science.

    Science is a belief that there is a thing that is true and that lots of strange instruments and analytical prods will soon find it, like arriving at salvation or heaven via a Higgs Bosom. Yes, I did deliberately misspell that. Science has its quest for its idea of compass deduced heaven. Religion has its idea of prayerful deduced heaven. Both can be welcoming of a balance of feelings and logic. That is the best. But where science, or religion becomes overly analytical and starts bullying all the feeling people and tells them to be more fixed and logical those people peel off from belonging and set up their own bubble. But in still fighting with their logical forebears they may USE LOGIC to exhalt in the bubble a sense of competing righteousness. They may think it is a more fundamentally healing knowledge or theory. And they may go to WORK on healing everyone, even by gaslighting them that they need healed in the first place.

    By far it would be easier to come away from parleying with old school “logic” and even much of ANY logic. It would be easier to just choose to be being a beautiful belief with its own intrinsic understanding of why people fall ill. To be a belief does not mean “getting rid of” all the other beliefs. It does not mean destroying the way other beliefs choose to feel their way towards their understanding of why people fall sick.

    An understanding about illness and healing is in ALL beliefs. That is ok. No harm is in any belief.

    An understanding alone is not damaging.

    The damage in any belief is in the way BULLYING creeps into ANY belief and masquerades as healing by logic and insists and insists and insists it is “right”, even if you are bawling.

    If MIA were to become a recognizable belief it would not need to exhaustingly do battle in the “right” “wrong” arena. A battle that could make a value in calling any individual of a different free choice “right” or “wrong”…but instead, as a belief, MIA could BE THE ANSWER. BE the HEALER, by saying that ANY feeling and ANY free choice you want to make IS PERFEcT FOR YOU.

    • I may have disagreed with you at times, but I have hope for you no matter how you described yourself. If saying you have schizophrenia works for you, whom I am to sy? I can not. It is not for me to live your life, your life path or live your life purpose. It is more than enough for me to live my life, my life path, my life purpose. So who am I to judge. The Good Book says, “Judge not lest ye be judged.” I believe most other religious and spiritual traditions have similar advice. I may disagree with you at times, but you must be you. No one can deny you that right. So, since it appears you are very resolute in being you and no one else; I have hope for you. It was the great poet e. e. cummings who said it (I’m paraphrasing.) the greatest battle in life is to be yourself and no one else. Keep up the good fight. Thank you.

      • Thank you Rebel. I back “your choice”. Your “choice” is beautiful.

        I really must GO and leave the comments section as I want to go into retreat and prioritize my health. But before I leave I just want to shower the metaphorical philosophical breadcrumbs from off my apron as a last gesture from my playful fussiness…..

        I shall use the word “you” generically now, as in the abstract anyone.

        In synchronious use, yesterday I wrote that exact bible quote mentioned on judgement. It is a powerful quote for our current decade where everyone is scrutinizing the motives of everyone else. All scrutinizing of stranger’s motives comes from “fear”, not so much of who they are, they are probably innocent and harmless and doing nothing grevious. Rather it is fear of “who they could become in future” if their “free choices” are not trampled over by “logical” adherence to “right choices”.

        Lots of anger is being meted out to persons in case they “become xyz”.
        It is not even anger at “who they are”.
        But this outrageous controlling by the angry then “causes” a terrified need to equally be angry, at being so controlled. Until the whole world is full of the angry who do not like where your “free choices” MIGHT lead you. Who your own “freedom” MIGHT make you become next year or the year after.

        The fearful scrutinizers think that if they muscle everyone to make “right choices” then the world will know peace by having only the “right people” in it. Not the “wrong people”.

        But since “feelings” inspire your individual “free choices”, and since “feelings” cannot be “right” or “wrong”, just like bodily breathing or eating or belching and dreaming cannot be deemed “right” or “wrong” then there are no “right choices” as such or “wrong choices”.

        There is only loving or bullying.

        Bullying is unacceptable and comes from not having contact with the feelings that tell you via empathy that the other creature is suffering by having their “free choices” stripped from them.

        Love is an indication of having great access to feelings.
        Bullying is the illness that occurs through having no access to feelings.

        Many factors can cause that. There is abdolutely nothing “wrong” with wanting to choose to be a very “logical” person. Logic by itself is wonderful in life and necessary and is NOT bulllying. An over schooling in “logic” however may occasionally turn out bullies. This is because a “logical” life with no emotions becomes rapidly miserable and devoid of feelings like romance and playfullness and joy. That misery is a pent upness that erupts as aggressive bullying from time to time. All bullies are miserable. The challenge is to remain compassionate about their miserable ill state WITHOUT accepting the bullying behaviour. A tendency is to demonize the miserable who become bullies, rather than seeing them as ill humans who just need access to their “feelings” again. But this cannot be suggested to them by pushing them in the direction of “feelings” for that in itself would be being a pushy bully also.

        It is always tempting to have a “rule” that says the world should have no controlling people in it, but by controlling a controller you may inadvertantly become controlling.
        You cannot controllingly frog march a person off into healing without being a harmer. It is not healing to an individual to come the charlatan “right” and “logical” know-all of whatever you believe is “for their own good”.
        Even if you supposedly helpfully buy them ten copies of books on “for their own good”.

        Having “free choice” is so holy it is more essential than “what” the specific choice is. In a world of nine billion delightfully choosy humans there is going to be bickering over whose choice is better or more relevant or more planet saving or more caring in a “consensus opinion” way. But a “consensus opinon” is not an individual’s own heartfelt choice. It is just the recognition of some similar choices all categorized as “correct” by some external expert of dogma or “logic”, a standard that is of itself not “of feeling”.

        What confuses humans is that a sense of “belonging” that is derived from being “approved of” by “consensus opinion” FEELS so restoring, in a lonely life, and this buddy acceptance then feels healing. But that healing found in belonging can be the abolishment of individual “freedom of choice”. It is a kind of tenth rate sacrifice of one’s own wellbeing, found in individual “freedom of choice” in order to join a club and be found acceptable and loved by them. But then the question becomes this….
        IF you have to give up being you to get love is it really love?

        Love is about making you MORE of who YOU are, not less.

        The “logic” that becomes so bullying within “consensus opinon” in any club will try to tell YOU that you do not know YOU at all. It will supply you with the latest “rational” and “judgey” arguements, scoured from halls of universities, to belittle you. This then frightens you about bravely piping up with YOUR OWN quirky outlook or opinion or “free choice”. Instead you plough your bravery into being brave “for” the club. As if by its becoming an even bigger “consensus opinion” then it will eventually establish itself and its ire will calm down and this will make it be loving and then it will turn around and stop its snap judgements and love your “free choices”.

        Kind of like how any authority that shouts from “consensus opinion” can be symbolic of a violent parent. One who needs tiptoed around and served with undying commitment in order for the individual to be loved.

        You scratch my back and I will scratch yours. You scratch the back of “consensus opinon” and keep scratching and keep scratching.

        Psychiatry has been that “consensus opinion” club. It is inevitable.
        But I think any club, even antipsychiatry, can run the risk of prioritizing “group think” over and above the lovely mixed bag of unique individuals in that group. Each individual has valuable outlooks and philosophies and personal experiences and faiths and contributions to make but when the “consensus opinion” matters far more than the eccentric, choosy, fusspots in it, then personal experiences become DEVALUED. That is not good in true antipsychiatry.

        The only “consensus opinion” worth belonging to is the one that would rather die than impose its regime choices on you.

        In essence Jesus showed this by dying on the cross, dying of love for each individual’s own “free choice” to love him or not.

        If love is not free to change its mind again and again, lots of love one day, then not so much the next, then a bit more the next, and so on, then love is coerced and is not free and is not love.

        “Feedom of choice” is integral to love.

        “Logic” is afraid of feelings and afraid of “freedom of choice” because both can be “illogical” at times. That is why “logic” is behind alot of controlling behaviour.
        Especially in patriarchy.

        The Institution of The Church came long after Jesus. It constructed a palace of “logic” and “consensus opinion” dripping in gilded architecture whilst babies starved. The Church’s “logic” became so marble ice cold and irrefutable and impressive that it led to the end point of mothers handing over their little boys and girls to complete strangers in patriarchal dog collars. Those mothers were propagandized to let their babies go off and get “logical lessons” . Those mothers were taught to ignore their “illogical” gut “feelings” that the “consensus opinion” had gone weird and was no longer “love”.

        I am not against The Church. I am for every religion and atheism and science and anything any person might choose as their best choice for them. None of these are the same thing as bullying. Bullying is not in the temple, or shrine, or palace, or laboritary, or church, or party. Bullying is like a bad stink that can wend a way into anything and anyone. It gets everywhere. It is like air. You cannot see it. It is not in the books or clothes or hairstyles of “the other” or “the different”. In fact if you think it is in the props then you may become a bully of people who harmlessly adore those props, those books, those clothes, those hairstyles. Targetting externals will never solve the riddle of why humans become bullies. The need to keep bullying is caused by a fear. It is a fear of breakdown from coming into contact with inner feelings. Feelings that are stimulated to the impervious surface by seeing other people enjoy their “feelings”.

        To arrive at love, even love of self, requires access to inner feelings.

        The way humans do a poor copy of love is hardly love at all. Jesus was a man of FEELINGS. He was not patriarchial. He challenged every narrow bickering smug “consensus opinion” he met with.

        For being a weepy man of FEELING he was called mad then hauled off to a “logical” court room and called a “wrong un” and a “liar”.

        Because “logic” ALWAYS needs to call your own feeling “liars”.

        This is rumbling on in court rooms today. A mass media mob presses its nose up to the court windows to call ANY FEELINGS witnessed in that circus within outright bare faced “LIES”. This is because to the indoctrinated, in their overly logical ways of seeing, ALL FEELINGS cannot be “logically” explained or controlled and so it stands to “reason” that ALL the FEELINGS being declared must be crazy, or borderline, or narcissistic.

        They said the equivallent to the raggy clothed poetic Nazarean carpenter and they are saying the same of the lying bruised Hollywood human being. The bullies say she has an apparently “logically wrong” way of feeling her feeings. As if there can be a “logically wrong” way of crying.

        A divorce is not a “right” side and a “wrong” side. A divorce is a disaster for both human beings. A divorce is not about “sides”. There are no “sides” in a tragedy.

        But in a age where “logic” reigns supreme everyone gets narrowly schooled that there MUST be a “side” because someone HAS to be WRONG to prove logic RIGHT, otherwise logic has no place to go to but “feelings”.

        And that would cause a healing through breakdown.

    • Dear Joshua,

      Thankyou for your kind concern.

      I have not been convinced that I have a disease. I know it for myself. I find it as patronizing to have strangers try to tell me I am too idiotic to spot propaganda. This has often been the hallmark of the propagandist themselves, who is eager to let everyone know that not only were they sold a doozy of a yarn but that they need a new outsider to “logically explain” what their real “feelings” really SHOULD be.

      There are NO SHOULD “feelings”. Feelings just are.

      If you were a visitor to my typical week you would see me writhing several times a day exactly like this woman in a blue swimsuit in the emergency department in this youtube documentary. At 39 seconds into this film you will see someone who looks identical to how I look while I am hallucinating the ghastly sensation of thousands of wasps blizzarding around inside my body and all over my skin. Even when I am not physically writhing I am anxiously anticipating the whole fenzy violently swarming up all over again, during sipping a coffee, or during having a bath, or during a phonecall, or trying to go beyond my front door to buy food, yes actual food to eat. If I have glaring spelling mistakes or odd ways of finishing comments it is because I cannot endure writing anymore sentences in that moment because behind the scenes I am so frustrated by the hourly intrusive hallucinations that I want to hurl the table that I am writing on out of a window. Many comments have been erased because I weep at being given disturbances whilst composing them. It has been my observation that I can tell some people about these private hells of mine and meet with a bit of care, but other people seem to get off on the prurient details with near fetishistic relish. Why this is the case might be because they believe their own suffering is more important and so anyone elses must be minimized or trashed as not viable or believeable. It may also be the case that their suffering really is abhorrent but so much so that they have fled their own sticken capacity to “feel” those feelings. This brings a survivors heroism to bear in them but it may have rendered them so unable to “emotionally” connect with their own “feeling” of rage or loss or grief that they must live vicariously on the details of rage or loss or grief and all the doomy suffering expressed in the tears on other people’s crumpled faces. People complain that psychiatrists are like that, staring woodenly whilst asking you to repeatedly describe in minute detail all the things you need to do in a day to not die. As if the psychiatrist “logically relates” to your terrified bravery.

      Actually I must be lucky because of all the twenty plus psychiatrists that I have met all of them were compassionate towards me. Not one was into being a colloseum spectator of my unravelling. Not one was into pumping me for more and more gratuitous “proof” or “evidence” or “logical explanation” for my “feelings”. That has been MY experience. I will not lie about it. Neither should anyone lie about their negative or even brutal experiences with their psychiatrist.

      Let me return to this notion that some people only listen as a means to vicariously get to live through your honest and open “feelings” of distress. ANYONE can be a bully in that way. ANYONE can listen in that not really hearing you way. And ANYONE can nod and nod as if “relating” to you finally. Finally after you have spent months in comments “explaining to their need for a rational explanation” just how agonized your existence is. They can finally judge you and say they are “relating” to what you say.

      But “relating” is not loving. A toddler in distress does not want their mother to “relate” to their howling. Even the World War 2 Nazi’s could “feelinglessly” work in a little wooden “relating” from time to time. Just to touch base nostalgically with a “feeling” of inner anguish. Puppets on strings give up their connection to their own emotions in order to seek the answer found in subservience to a winner of an ideology. But it can leave them vulnerable to becoming both victims of bullying and bullies themselves, ever telling people how their “own feelings” are not valid. I cannot decide who is more needful of pity. The genuinely ill suffering ones or the ones who have swapped their emotions for a worthy cause and have “no feelings whatsoever” and live a life of misery because they cannot access enriching feelings like sadness, anger, joy and cheerfulness. Instead, flee “feelings” and live a life where they must be “right”. Right about “you”. Right about “me”. In a manner of…

      “I know what you are REALLY feeling and it isn’t mental illness”.

      https://youtu.be/prEwJDsfWMo

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