Holding things together as they continue to fall apart... On gendered precarity and optimism in austerity

An event hosted by LSE Cities

Great scrutiny in the social sciences has been given to the ‘impasse:’ a slow and on-going crisis. This work points to acts of grasping or holding on, and to the collectively sensed impossibility of endings, even as they begin to unfold. This paper engages with women’s experiences of publicly funded third sector service withdrawal in Gateshead, UK, in order to interrogate the place of hope in the impasse. Drawing on a process of collaborative theatre-making, it asks, how do women who are unemployed or in low-paid precarious work live with uncertain futures? What promises to sustain them as resources retract; workers’ rights and support for unpaid labour diminishes? I engage with Berlant’s (2011) diagnosis of ‘cruel optimism:’ ‘when something you desire is actually an obstacle to your flourishing’ suggesting that while cruel optimism has been taken up and applied to a range of situations in social science, there has been less engagement with the effects of the fracturing and multiplicity of hope; with other kinds of optimism or with what happens when objects of attachment are lost or disavowed. Therefore, I pay attention to women’s multiple, ambivalent and contradictory relations with the ‘not yet happened.’ I explore futures forced onto women and their methods for negotiating that. This shows that acts of holding together numerous changing, conflicting and impossible optimisms, both constitutes a contemporary form of precarity, and becomes sustaining through the uncertainties of everyday life.