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Historicizing precarious work: Forty years of research in the social sciences and humanities

This survey article seeks to contribute to the understanding of the concepts of precarious work and precarization in the history of industrial capitalism by addressing the debate in the social sciences and humanities over the past forty years. Based on a gendered global approach, this article aims to offer a critique of the Global North-centric perspective, which largely conceives precarious work as a new phenomenon lacking a longer historical tradition. The first part discusses the multiple origins, definitions, and conceptualizations of “precarious work” elaborated with regard to industrial as well as post-industrial capitalism, taking into account selected contemporary sources as well as studies conducted by historians and social scientists. In the second part, the influence of different approaches, such as the feminist and post-colonial ones, in globalizing and gendering the precarious work debate is examined in their historical contexts, exploring also the crucial nexus of precarious work and informal work. In the conclusion, the limitations of the available literature are discussed, along with suggestions for further directions in historicizing precarious work from a global perspective.