Spatialities of Alienation: Deskilling and Precarious Labor in 21st Century London
London is swallowing immigrants as it grows to secure its place in the hierarchy of global cities, strategically positioned as the European Union's largest metropolis and with a colonial history that has carved avenues across the globe. A deciding factor in this position is the ease with which new immigrants have been able to find work, with employment levels now higher among new migrants than British born whites. Not much talk is given to what sorts of work these migrants take, the deskilling inherent to low-wage work, and the function of the service sector within the development of the precariat as a core labor pool of neoliberal capitalism. My paper seeks to continue this discussion by asking the question: How do downwardly mobile migrant professionals experience deskilling, and what can their experience tell us when contrasted with Marx's theory of alienation in a neo-liberal context?
Based on ongoing research in the form of in-depth qualitative interviews, I utilize a theoretical framework of alienation drawing on Marx (alienation), Durkheim (anomie), and Tönnies (gemeinschaft / gesellschaft). My empirical findings, grounded in the revolutions of political economy in the past forty years, show the results of deskilling as it takes a toll on migrants’ identities, character, and subjectivities. I go on to argue that deskilled migrants experience two distinct yet related forms of alienation: role and value alienation. The migrants’ reflections on the ‘alien’ culture of work in London speaks clearly to how domination has been able to mask itself as workplace practice.
I conclude that neoliberal globalization is a force as revolutionary as industrialization when it comes to changes in the lived experience of workers. A spatial consideration of the theory of alienation – along with a return to critical theory – is necessary to understand the implications.