Between work and non-work. Risk transitions through life stories and everyday life
Sociology and Social Research University of Trento Trento, Italy
The paper aims to analyze the critical transitions intersecting the work careers and the methodological implications concerning the study of risk biographies. Trying to understand some of the changes of contemporary labour markets (such as flexible and immaterial work and fragmentation of professional identities), different theoretical models have been proposed, but the emphasis, in most of these studies, is on the "chances" offered by new work and professional paths, forgetting the risks to which less competitive, professionalized and "attractive" workers are exposed.
In this contribution, on the contrary, I want instead offering an analysis of contemporary work trajectories that is not limited to the contractual and economic dimension, but that takes into account a variety of fields and spheres of life that are articulated in different ways, events and representations that inspire people's action. This approach is motivated by the awareness that in today's social context, marked by swift changes and the growth of work and social precariousness, it is more and more difficult to identify biographical sequences marked by consistency and predictability.
From a methodological perspective, the attention goes to the development of methods for the narrative analysis of risk transitions. The reading criterium assumes the actor as sense maker, who interprets retrospectively the shifts and the events of his/her life, defining its significance with his/her own principles. For this reason narrative analysis is an outstanding tool to describe how the actors ascribe meaning to the changes and how they reconstruct the shattered order, allowing both a longitudinal analysis of the biographical transitions in the life stories, and the analysis of the everyday transitions (between paid work, unpaid work and private life).
My reflection will found particularly on the analysis of fifty narrative interviews with men and women working in the Italian public administration. I have chosen this particular sector on one side because it represents one of the new paradigmatic sectors of the present configuration of precariousness in Europe; on the other because it is a sector in which women are highly overrepresented, showing the high gender segregation and stratification in the European labour markets.