AT FIRST the 2008 financial crisis looked as if it was going to constitute a major threat to the long-term viability of neoliberalism. Viewed from our current vantage point, however, it seems merely to have given the champions of the free market an opportunity to carry out with increased intensity their program of privatization, deregulation, and reduction to a minimum of the state, public sector, and welfare system. The result is a condition we can describe as postwelfare capitalism.
The Uberfication of the University explores what neoliberalism’s further weakening of the social is likely to mean for the future organization of labor by examining data and information companies associated with the emergence of the corporate sharing economy. It focuses on the sharing economy because it is here that the implications for workers of such a shift to a postwelfare capitalist society are most apparent today. This is a society in which we are encouraged to become not just what Michel Foucault calls entrepreneurs of the self but micro-entrepreneurs of the self, acting as if we are our own, precarious, freelance microenterprises in a context in which we are being steadily deprived of employment rights, public services, and welfare support. Witness the description one futurologist gives of how the nature of work will change, given that 30 to 80 percent of all jobs are predicted to disappear in the next twenty years as a result of developments in automation and advanced robotics: “You might be driving Uber part of the day, renting out your spare bedroom on Airbnb a little bit, renting out space in your closet as storage for Amazon or housing the drone that does delivery for Amazon.”
The book analyzes the implications of this transformation to a postwelfare capitalist society for the organization of labor largely through the prism of those who work and study in the university. It does so partly because academics, researchers, and students are now being encouraged to become microentrepreneurs of themselves and of their own lives—so even so-called good jobs are being affected—but mainly because the university provides one of the few spaces in postindustrial society where the forces of contemporary neoliberalism’s anti–public sector regime are still being overtly opposed, to a certain extent at least. It follows that such changes in the way labor is organized will be all the more powerfully and visibly marked in the case of the publicly funded and legally nonprofit university system. Indeed if, as research reveals, being an academic is one of the most desired jobs in Britain today, it may be precisely because this occupation is seen as offering a way of living, of being alive, that is not just about consuming and working and very little else.