Mechanisms of biopower and neoliberal governmentality in precarious work: Mobilizing the dependent self-employed as independent business owners

Johanna Moisander, Claudia Groß, Kirsi Eräranta
  • Human Relations, September 2017, SAGE Publications
  • DOI: 10.1177/0018726717718918

How do mechanisms of biopower operate in multi-level marketing and in the emerging gig economy?

What is it about?

This article builds a Foucauldian perspective on the emerging 'gig economy' and examines the mechanisms of biopower and techniques of managerial control that underpin—and produce consent for—precarious work and nonstandard work arrangements in the empirical context of a a globally operating multi-level marketing organization. Based on an ethnographic study, the article shows how the organization deploys particular techniques of government to mobilize and manage its precarious workers as a network of enterprise-units: as a community of active and productive economic agents who willingly reconstitute themselves and their lives as enterprises to pursue self-efficacy, autonomy and self- worth as individuals.

Why is it important?

The article contributes to the literature on organizational power, particularly Foucauldian studies of the workplace, in three ways: (1) by building a theoretical analytics of government perspective on managerial control that highlights the nondisciplinary, biopolitical forms of power that underpin employment relations under the conditions of neoliberal governmentality; (2) by extending the theory of enterprise culture to the domain of precarious work to examine the mechanisms of biopower that underpin ongoing transformations in the sphere of work; and (3) by shifting critical attention to the lived experience of precarious workers in practice.


Professor Johanna K. Moisander
Aalto University

This study is based on ethnographic field work carried out by Claudia Groß.

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The following have contributed to this page: Professor Johanna K. Moisander and Kirsi Eräranta