Terms and definitions on affordable and sustainable housing *


Area: Policy and financing

Precariat The term 'precariat' is a compound word formed from 'precarious' and 'proletariat'. (Standing, 2011). It refers to a group of individuals who face precarious employment conditions and may lack stable income and living circumstances. ‘Precarity’ encompasses the broader context, including the causes and conditions leading to this uncertainty of existence. When we describe a situation or relationship as ‘precarious,’ we mean it is characterized by instability and uncertainty. Belonging to the precariat does not confer a status; it is "not ... a status concept, but a condition concept" (LaVaque-Manty 2009, 107). Nowadays, the precariat is part of the everyday and public discourse, representing the essence of new poverty. As market-driven economic structures have evolved, traditional forms of employment and social safety nets have become less secure, leading to increased uncertainty and vulnerability for many individuals. The term 'precariat' was coined by Standing (2011) to describe a 'class-in-the-making' comprised of individuals distinct from other social classes, such as the salariat (those with stable full-time employment) and the proletariat (the traditional working class), due to their unique set of challenges and experiences related to precariousness—lack of security and predictability in various aspects of their lives. Standing´s definition of the precariat generated an active academic, public, and political debate about its meaning and scope, leading to its reinterpretation and broadening. In the Great British Class Survey (GBCS) (2013), the precariat was classified as the lowest social class. However, it encompasses more than just unemployed individuals or the working poor. According to Foti (2017), the precariat includes both emergent service workers and the low-wage workers in commerce, government, and industry. Additionally, Butler (2015) argues that precarity is a “condition in which certain populations suffer from failing social and economic networks of support more than others” (p. 144). The precariat emerges as a consequence of neoliberal ideology, which has shaped public policies by prioritizing market principles and integrating them into policy discussions and decision-making processes. Castel (2007) and Polanyi (2004) have emphasized that the proliferation of precarity and the uncertainty regarding the future impact a larger portion of the population than is commonly perceived. Precariousness, as a state of insecurity and instability,  surpasses conventional class distinctions and indicators of social status such as income, employment, and education (Waldron, 2021). As Standing (2011) stated: “Falling into the precariat could happen to most of us, if accidents occurred or a shock wiped out the trappings of security many have come to rely on” (p.59). The central aim of theorizing the precariat is to provide a framework wherein downward social mobility is understood within the broader context of social inequalities (Bukodi and Goldthorpe, 2019). Housing precariat The terms “precariat”, “precarity”, and “precarious” have seldom been utilized in the literature of housing sociology, but housing affordability is a key driver of precarity (Waldron, 2021). Nonetheless, there has been a noticeable surge in their usage within international literature in recent decades (Listerborn, 2021; Waldron, 2023).  Housing precariat can be defined as “a state of uncertainty which increases a person´s real or perceived likelihood of experiencing an adverse event, caused (at least in part) by their relationship with their housing provider, the physical qualities, affordability, security of their home, and access to essential services.” (Clair et al., 2019). The entrenched social inequalities serve as the fundamental cause of the current housing crisis. These disparities have progressively worsened, exacerbated by the expanding precariat—a group experiencing precarious employment due to shifts in the labour market and economy. In this context, the concept of precariat offers a lens to examine the widening gap between wealth and income, leading to economic instability, deteriorating living conditions, heightened unemployment, poverty, and homelessness. Moreover, it underscores the deepening spatial inequalities, evidenced by the rising residential segregation. The operationalization of the precariat in housing research presents challenges, particularly considering the distinctive shifts in the labour market and life trajectories of wage earners in Europe, with added complexities in Eastern Europe due to its intricate historical development. In this context, the precariat transcends specific historical periods; its dynamic nature is best understood through real-life scenarios. This juncture offers an opportunity to delve into its contemporary significance and its potential as a valuable tool for examining various social phenomena. These include household behaviours, housing-related issues stemming from interactions between authorities, institutions, and households, as well as diverse mechanisms, particularly within local and national contexts. It is essential to recognize that precarious housing does not necessarily reflect the housing conditions of individuals within the precariat.

Created on 21-03-2024

Author: A.Martin (ESR7)


* This vocabulary consists of definitions of key terms related to the combined research conducted by the 15 early-stage researchers. Each term has multiple definitions, each connected to one of the three main research areas: Design, Construction and Planning; Community Involvement; and Policy and Funding.

The joint construction of this vocabulary allows the researchers' projects to be interwoven. As such, the vocabulary is a tool for conducting transdisciplinary research on affordable and sustainable housing.

Entries are reviewed by RE-DWELL researchers and supervisors. The vocabulary is updated regularly.