The concept of precarity, as noted in Chapter 1, emerged initially in the area of labour studies but has subsequently been applied to a wide range of issues and groups. The aim of this chapter is to advance research on this topic by proposing a framework for identifying and recognizing precarity based on qualitative research with older people. The chapter outlines the background to the author's initial interest in this topic, reviews relevant research literature and discusses two research studies exploring the lives of older adults living in precarious circumstances.
The chapter is divided into the following sections. First, the context for precarity is discussed from the vantage point of the author's background and broader theoretical influences. Second, the chapter reviews challenges associated with recognizing and measuring precarity. This discussion provides a framework for the chapter's primary objective of developing methods to identify precarity in qualitative data collection and analysis, with the ultimate goal of informing the development of a validated index of precarity. The chapter then turns to the methods used to detect precarity in two research studies in the field of ageing. Third, the chapter outlines and illustrates indepth explanations of four specific markers of precarity. The chapter concludes with a discussion of the contribution made by the research studies as a means to inform future research and recommendations.
Personal and theoretical context
In the early 1990s, as a graduate student of political sciences at the University of Turin in Italy, I witnessed first-hand the increased use of contratti a termine (work contracts with an end date) or contratti precari (precarious contracts). I also observed resistance against this new form of employment, opposition that culminated (in 2002) in the murder of Marco Biagi, an Italian economics professor and main contributor to a law that permitted temporary employment, by the Brigate Rosse (Red Brigades) (Carroll, 2002). Social and political conflict was taking place across many European countries around that time, with the increase in precarious employment symptomatic of a political economy unable to guarantee its citizens secure jobs, decent pensions and affordable health coverage. In France, temporary workers christened themselves the ‘precariat’, combining ‘precariousness’ with ‘proletariat’ (Bodnar, 2006). As the term suggests, these workers denounced the injustice of flexible labour contracts stripped of the benefits associated with secure employment.