A new project investigating the links between precarious work and authoritarian politics in the Global South, to be led by Dr Rosana Pinheiro Machado at the University of Bath's Department of Social & Policy Sciences, will soon get underway thanks to significant new funding from the European Research Council (ERC).
Focusing on the shifts in politics and labour market witnessed across Brazil, India, and the Philippines since the 2000s, the research will focus on the rise of authoritarian leaders, from Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil to Narendra Modi in India, and the drivers behind their success. The project aims to take a unique look at the interactions between politics, changes in society, and the labour market.
As part of this, the research team, which involves academic colleagues in Brazil, India, the Philippines, and the UK will conduct detailed, ethnographic studies and extensive analysis of social media data to unpack the challenges rapidly emerging economies in the Global South have faced. Specifically, this will investigate how economic growth has often been coupled with the rise in aspirational classes and growing work precariousness (e.g., the growth in the gig economy).
The research will focus on six sectors of the labour market, including services (cleaning, food, beauty, online delivery, entertainment), technology and transportation. Brazil, India, and The Philippines have all been historically marked by high levels of informality within their labour markets, which make them useful comparison case studies.
As Dr Machado explains: 'Democratic consolidation is facing significant challenges as nations elect populist, authoritarian politicians. The understanding of such processes too often is fragmented or limited to the Global North, but there are distinct issues countries such as Brazil, India and The Philippines all face. Growing evidence shows that emerging, aspirational classes in these countries have supported authoritarian leaders; we want to interrogate why and how this occurs.
'A key problem common to studies about the rise of the radical right is to describe them only through emotions of anger, hate, resentment, and nostalgia in contexts of impoverishment and recession, explaining how these workers are frustrated with the economy. When we consider economic growth in emerging economies, we also need to understand how low-income groups build their aspirations and dreams on upwards social mobility. Our project aims to understand how authoritarian populists recruit supporters in this way, amplifying messages about individualism, entrepreneurship, and wealth-creation via social media.
'Through this work we hope to shed light on political and economic trends and their consequences in both the Global South and the Global North. This work will provide valuable insights that contribute not only to the UN Sustainable Goal of decent work, but also towards more democratic and just societies more broadly.’
The project - Flexible Work, Rigid Politics: The Nexus Between Labour Precariousness and Authoritarian Politics in The Global South (Brazil, India, Philippines) - will run for five years. Professor Fabio Malini (Federal University of Espirito Santo, Brazil) will lead the data science research. The project will also hire several PhD students and Post-docs who will be based at the University of Bath, where Dr Machado is based.