Precarias a la deriva

Precarias a la deriva is a feminist initiative situated between research and activism, active in and around Madrid from 2002 onwards. In June 2002 Spanish unions organised a general strike in response to changes in the labour legislation. A group of women, most of them active in the feminist social centre La Eskalera Karakola in Madrid, were unsatisfied with the lack of representation for addressing concerns about their unstable, flexible and precarious working and living conditions, and doubted the effectiveness of strike mobilization as a resistance tool. With these considerations in mind the group spent the day of the general strike on the streets asking women if they were striking, and what were their views regarding the strike and their precarious conditions. The initiative Precarias a la deriva (literally: Precarious women adrift) arose from this experience and organised its first deriva (literally meaning ‘drift’) in October 2002. The method of deriva is appropriated from the Situationist International, a group of artists and activists active between 1957 and 1972 mainly in France, that used purposeless wandering in the city – dérive (French for ‘drift’) – as a performative and subversive technique for experiencing the urban space differently and to provoke social change. In Precarias a la deriva’s version the situationist dérive is released from its bourgeois and masculine connotation of the flâneur in order to be used as a situated, “open and multisensorial”1 (Precarias a la deriva 2004a, 26) method in the regular everyday space of the participating women. For several months an open and flexible group of women met almost weekly to wander around the relevant places constituting their precarious working and living conditions in the fields of communication work (translation and language teaching, call centres), domestic work, catering, nursing, and in a later stage also sex work, scholarships, advertising, mediation and education. The derivas were inspired by the idea of coming together to create a cartography of these feminized precarious working and living conditions by exchanging experiences, sharing reflections, and taking the self as a starting point for common struggle and resistance (Precarias a la deriva 2004a).

Feminist critique of the general strike as a resistance tool is already mentioned in the 1970s in the context of a general critique of Marx’ analysis of capitalism, which points out that Marx failed to consider the importance of unpaid reproductive work carried out by women, and the role reproductive work plays in the (re-)production of labour-power (Federici 2009). Precarias a la deriva’s analyses and practices were inspired by (Marxist) feminist critiques and took them a step further. They were interested in reproduction in a broad sense and found contemporaraneous rearticulations of a feminist critique on reproduction in the works of Donna Haraway (1991), Chela Sandoval (2000), Anna G. Jónasdóttir (1995), Rosi Braidotti (2002), Cristina Carrasco (1999), Jane Flax (1995) and Cristina Morini (2001). Following Michel Foucault, Judith Butler and Carole Pateman they took analyses of multiple forms of power relations into consideration, such as the “sexual division of labour, control of sexuality, normative heterosexuality and family socialisation” (Precarias a la deriva 2004a, 22-23). 

Precarias a la deriva stressed the importance of an analysis of contemporary capitalism which takes reproduction as well as the history of colonialism, patriarchy and domination based on racism into account. With regard to post-Marxist approaches on immaterial or affective labour (Lazzarato 1996; Hardt/Negri 2000) Precarias a la deriva pointed out that some approaches deriving from immaterial or affective labour theories did not consider the effects of racializing and patriarchal domination (Precarias a la deriva 2004a, 23). Moreover, they made the body as “a place of the expression of domination and exploitation” (Precarias a la deriva 2004a, 23) a subject of discussion and referred to feminist theories on the public and the private, stressing the importance of public visibility and linking precariousness with «questions of care and sexuality» (Precarias a la deriva 2004b).

Based on this theoretical framework, Precarias a la deriva analysed precariousness not as just confined to wage labour but as an ongoing, heterogeneous process that affects the whole existence, and as a tendency which is not new – most of the work carried out by women and people outside of the global north is and always has been precarious – and is affecting hitherto secured sectors of society (Precarias a la deriva 2004a). They defined precariousness as “a juncture of material and symbolic conditions which determine an uncertainty with respect to the sustained access to the resources essential to the full development of one’s life”, an approach which aims at “overcome(ing) the dichotomies of public/private and production/reproduction and to recognize the interconnections between the social and the economic” (Precarias a la deriva 2004b).

Even though today Precarias a la deriva are no longer active under this name, their theories and practices continue to inspire and stimulate militant research practices and initiatives within as well as outside of Spain.