The Global Governance of Precarity: Primitive Accumulation and the Politics of Irregular Work, 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

The Global Governance of Precarity

Primitive Accumulation and the Politics of Irregular Work, 1st Edition

By Nick Bernards


164 pages

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‘Standard’ employment relationships, with permanent contracts, regular hours, and decent pay, are under assault. Precarious work and unemployment are increasingly common, and concern is also growing about the expansion of informal work and the rise of ‘modern slavery’. However, precarity and violence are in fact longstanding features of work for most of the world’s population. Lamenting the ‘loss’ of secure, stable jobs often reflects a strikingly Eurocentric and historically myopic perspective.

This book argues that standard employment relations have always co-existed with a plethora of different labour regimes. Highlighting the importance of the governance of irregular forms of labour the author draws together empirical, historical analyses of International Labour Organisation (ILO) policy towards forced labour, unemployment, and social protection for informal workers in sub-Saharan Africa. Archival research, extensive documentary research and interviews with key ILO staff are utilised to explore the critical role the organization’s activities have often played in the development of mechanisms for governing irregular labour.

Addressing the increasingly widespread and pressing practical debates about the politics of precarious labour in the world economy this book speaks to key debates in several disciplines, especially IPE, global governance, and labour studies. It will also be of interest to scholars working in development studies and critical political economy.


"In this extremely well researched book Nick Bernards takes aim at, and dispatches, various theories of precarious and forced labour. His critique of the ILO’s role in generating a mythical ideology of properly functioning contract-based labour markets is excellent. This book represents an important academic and political intervention into debates around, and campaigns against, diverse forms of labour exploitation." - Benjamin Selwyn, University of Sussex, UK

"This is a timely book as the International Labour Organization (ILO) approaches its first century. It shows through meticulous scholarship the ILO’s efforts to regulate forced labour, labour migration and informal labour in sub-saharan Africa. It is the missing story of labours’ marginalised . It is is a must read for students of International Political Economy (IPE) , labour and development studies." - Edward Webster, University of Witwatersrand, South Africa

Table of Contents


Chapter 1: Irregular Labour in Global Capitalism

Chapter 2: The Governance of Forced Labour and the Antinomies of Colonialism

Chapter 3: Urbanization, Colonial Crisis, and Social Policy

Chapter 4: Irregular Work in the Postcolonial Social Order: The ILO Discovers the ‘Informal’

Chapter 5: Neoliberal Crises and the Politics of Informality

Chapter 6: Reviving the Governance of Forced Labour: ‘Traditional Slavery’ and Child Trafficking in West Africa


About the Author

Nick Bernards is Assistant Professor of Global Sustainable Development at the University of Warwick

About the Series

RIPE Series in Global Political Economy

For almost two decades now, the RIPE Series published by Routledge has been an essential forum for cutting-edge scholarship in International Political Economy. The series brings together new and established scholars working in critical, cultural and constructivist political economy. Books in the RIPE Series typically combine an innovative contribution to theoretical debates with rigorous empirical analysis.

The RIPE Series seeks to cultivate:

  • Field-defining theoretical advances in International Political Economy
  • Novel treatments of key issue areas, both historical and contemporary, such as global finance, trade, and production
  • Analyses that explore the political economic dimensions of relatively neglected topics, such as the environment, gender relations, and migration
  • Accessible work that will inspire advanced undergraduates and graduate students in International Political Economy.

James Brassett – Warwick

Eleni Tsingou – Copenhagen Business School

Susanne Soederberg – Queen’s

Learn more…

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