Silvio Lorusso 'Entreprecariat', publication with Onomatopee

Silvio Lorusso's 'Entreprecariat: Everyone is an entrepreneur. Nobody is Safe' (2019)- an interview by Floor van Luijk

Issue no3
juni - juli 2020
Troebele waters

Many artists, curators and critics have to work on a freelance basis: a mandatory embrace of freedom and uncertainty. With the closing of exhibitions and cultural institutions because of COVID-19, the advantages and downsides of this kind of ‘autonomy’ manifest themselves ever more clearly. In his new book Entreprecariat: Everyone is an entrepreneur. Nobody is Safe(2019), Silvio Lorusso questions a more general trend towards flexible work. How are entrepreneurialism and precarity intertwined? And what is the role of creativity in this ‘entreprecariat’?

—Floor van Luijk In your book you put forward the term ‘entreprecariat’, what does that term signify for you and how did you end up working on this topic?

—Silvio Lorusso ‘One the one hand there is, and has been for a few years, a lot of optimism in the media about entrepreneurialism. On the other hand, this optimism is based upon developments that others point out as problematic. What binds entrepreneurialism and precarity together is that they are both concerned with change and the future: one within a rhetoric of enthusiasm, the other within a rhetoric of anxiety and realism.I thought this comparison was interesting so I decided to start writing a blog about it. One platform I was immediately interested in was Kickstarter, which implicitly promises people that one good idea is enough to make someone successful. This entrepreneurial rhetoric is seen in various platforms, where it sometimes reaches a level of extremism. An examination of platforms such as LinkedIn, Fiverr and GoFundMe now forms the third chapter of my book. The first two chapters investigate where this rhetoric comes from, both historically and theoretically. They provide a historical perspective on entrepreneurialism and precarity, and show how our notions of space and time in relation to work have become more fluid, forcing us to ‘hack our minds’ into thinking positively in order to cope with uncertainty while pursuing our ambitions. ’

—Floor van Luijk A lot of successful platforms such as Amazon, Uber, Facebook etcetera once started with a bottom-up or horizontal strategy and were created by people without a lot of means. It seems that only when they become very wealthy they start to get an exploitative side to them.

—Silvio Lorusso ‘Is it really like this? Most people are not born billionaires, that is true. Yes, Steve Jobs and many others were not hyperwealthy, but they were wealthy. Yes, Marc Zuckerberg is a college dropout, but the college he dropped out of was Harvard. I think it is tempting to talk about the few successful companies created by people that were once middle-class and forget that about 90% of all start-ups fail. Survivorship bias shapes our mind, but the reality is different. It is a lottery.’

Silvio Lorusso 'Entreprecariat', publication with Onomatopee

—Floor van Luijk You bring the entrepreneurial and precarious discourses together in the term ‘entreprecariat’. Are you describing an emergent social class?

—Silvio Lorusso ‘The issue of class is problematic. Nowadays people embody features of different classes at the same time. In the ‘entreprecariat’ people are replaceable and not in control – classic proletarian features. At the same time people have what you would typically call bourgeois features: they have aspirations, cultural ambitions and produce their identities by distinguishing themselves from others, “rising from the crowds” so to speak. The difficulty lies here, because it prevents a sense of solidarity.’

—Floor van Luijk In your book you speak about a general trend towards freelance work and the gig-economy (for example work provided through Uber and Deliveroo). In the cultural field this permanent flexibility seems to be nothing new.

—Silvio Lorusso ‘The cultural sector somehow has been the laboratory for this. The artist’s anticipation of risk, change and instability is now generalized to the population at large. This changes the meaning of creativity. We tend to think of creativity as something carried out by artists, but now something like creating a campaign on GoFundMe to pay for your internship can also be called ‘creative’. Creativity becomes a necessary asset to make a living. It’s an idea of creativity that is very crisis-oriented, and what Sebastian Schmieg calls “survival creativity”.’

—Floor van Luijk A growing number of people, often well educated, is self-employed and financially unstable. You could either call them ultra-flexible digital nomads or gig-economical slave laborers. In your book you bring these opposing views side by side under the term ‘entreprecariat’. You suspend your judgment, yet you formulate an ‘Exit Strategy’ in the end. What is your position in this debate?

—Silvio Lorusso ‘The question of how to conceive autonomy as a self-employee is one of the central ones raised in the book. Entrepreneurial discourse basically says: “If you fail it’s your problem.” The precarious discourse says: “Autonomy means having support, a safety net. Flexibility requires a solid ground.” Many workers for platforms like Uber or Deliveroo are called ‘entrepreneurs’ or ‘independent contractors’, and adopt these narratives themselves as well. The entrepreneurial rhetoric is not forced upon people, it is part of the social atmosphere itself: the question is how to shape it to progressive ends. After writing the book I therefore started to using the term “fauxtonomy” – fake autonomy. There are very obvious cases in the gig-economy in which all the worker’s possibilities are shaped by the platform and therefore the autonomy promoted by the company is illusive. Some cases have emerged that users of these platforms speak up and say “no, we are not entrepreneurs, we are employees.” Paradoxically they gain autonomy by acknowledging that the relationship is not horizontal but vertical.’

Creativity becomes a necessary asset to make a living. It’s an idea of creativity that is very crisis-oriented, and what Sebastian Schmieg calls “survival creativity”

Silvio Lorusso presents 'Entreprecariat' at Making Space, Willem De Kooning Academie, Rotterdam. Photo: Thomas Walskaar.

—Floor van Luijk In your book you mention cases where individuals use GoFundMe and turn their tough situation into viral memes in order to pay for medical bills. The platform starts to function like a health care system when governments are failing. How do you see governments respond to these developments?

—Silvio Lorusso ‘It depends on what we are talking about. Perception plays a huge role in this, both on the level of the individual, but also on the level of how companies and states describe themselves. Policies in much of Europe are focused on the innovation discourse. If I think of Italy and France, the almost automatic response to the unemployment crisis is an entrepreneurial one: they send funding to young people to help them create start-ups and stimulate innovation. Macron even calls France ‘the start-up nation’. Now that also governments have become aware that full employment is a mirage, the entrepreneurial attitude is seen more and more as something completely natural.’

—Floor van Luijk Do you have the feeling that there is enough attention for this topic in politics and the media in general?

—Silvio Lorusso ‘That’s a good question. Nowadays I feel that even though topics such as that of the gig economy have claimed quite a central place in public debates, the underlying ideologies we maintain when we talk about these developments is hardly made explicit. My book tries to shed light upon these implicit values, and speak about them more generally.’

—Floor van Luijk I can see that this is necessary, but it’s also quite a ‘soft’ approach. Does it in any way compete with the cold hard economical forces that fuel this machine?

—Silvio Lorusso ‘Interesting, you can say, does it make a change? I hear you. But I want to point out rhetorical regimes that are at the roots of economy as a field of study. Reading Joseph Schumpeter was surprising. He is a key economist who still informs the field, but through writing that has a very literary and persuasive quality. I think it is worth exploring rhetorics when talking about economy, to create a ground for conversations like the one we are having now.’

—Floor van Luijk How do you advice members of the ‘entreprecariat’ to deal with this situation practically?

—Silvio Lorusso ‘In many art and design schools there are courses about entrepreneurship, which are at once practical and ideological. What is needed however is to create a broader and more transparent perspective on what society has to offer. What does the field ask? What do you yourself want to do? How would you like to identify yourself: by distinguishing yourself individually or by building grounds for social cohesion and cooperation?’

'Entreprecariat: Everyone is an entrepreneur. Nobody is Safe' (2019) is published by Onomatopee and designed by Superness (Federico Antonini & Alessio D’Ellena)

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