Post-Industrial Precarity: New Ethnographies of Urban Lives in Uncertain Times

Gillian Evans (Ed.)

by Emma Fraser , Angela Torresan (University of Manchester), Alice Stefanelli (University of Durham), Donna Carmichael (London School of Economics and Political Science), Jess Symons (University of Manchester), Abigail Schoneboom (Newcastle University), Luciana Lang (Manchester Metropolitan University), Lucilla Barchetta (University of Turin)

Purchase this book

$ 89
Availability: In stock
currency displayed based on your location
(click here to change currency)

[...] an invaluable contribution to the anthropology of precarity and post-industrial urban life. The volume features eight outstanding chapters for readers interested in these key debates and amounts to a much-needed new wave of ethnographic studies with which scholars of the city can engage.

[Extract from book review on 'Exertions' ('Society for the Anthropology of Work''s website.) Jan 17, 2024. Reviewer: Tom Parkerson. ]

The United Nations predicts that by the year 2050 almost 70% of the planet’s population will be living in cities. The onus on social scientists is to explain the contemporary challenges posed by the urbanization of the world. A growing body of literature raises the alarm about the precarity of human existence in the uncertain conditions of rapidly transforming contemporary cities. This volume brings together a diverse collection of new ethnographies of precarious lives in various cities of the world. The specific focus on post-industrial cities in the UK allows for a wider consideration of the urban conditions and the political and economic climates which combine to produce extremely precarious living conditions for urban populations elsewhere in the world.The productive consequence of the comparisons and contrasts of various urban contexts, made possible by the volume, is an analytical focus on what it means for humans to live and occupy different subject positions under the advancing conditions of contemporary global capitalism.

The volume’s chapters are also united by the shared commitment of early career social science scholars to ethnography as a research method. This gives a common methodological focus to diverse topics of substantive concern located in various cities of the world from Manchester, Newcastle and Salford in the north of England, to Detroit in the USA, Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, Turin in Italy and Beirut in Lebanon. Ethnography, relying as it does on long-term participant observation and in-depth open-ended interviewing, is uniquely valuable as a resource for bringing to life the unpredictable ways in which humans survive and develop forms of resilience among, for example, the ruins of dying cities. Ethnography also enables social scientists to understand and add depth to the surprising stories and apparent contradictions of everyday protest in the face of the increasing privatization of the public good and extreme inequalities of wealth. Ethnographically grounded analyses of urban life are therefore uniquely positioned to explain and critically analyse the new politics of popular resistance as the people who feel ‘left behind’ by society, or expelled from what might be described as the ‘exclusification’ of urban environments, push back against an economy and politics that appears to exist only for the private benefit of an indifferent elite population.

List of figures




The failed promise of post-industrial society
Gillian Evans, University of Manchester

Chapter 1 Urban decay as an index of precarity
Ruin ethnography in practice in Detroit
Emma Fraser, University of Leeds

Chapter 2 Urbanists and the city
Notes on an ethnographic approach to urban planning
Alice Stefanelli, University of Durham
Chapter 3 Playing the game 49

Precarity and the dilemma of land rights in a gentrifying favela, Rio de Janeiro
Angela Torresan, University of Manchester

Chapter 4 Voices of dissent
Culture-led regeneration in post-industrial European cities
Donna Carmichael, London School of Economics and Political Science

Chapter 5 Culture as meaning-making
A new-old paradigm to reconcile working-class priorities with creative hubs and cultural industries
Jessica Symons, University of Manchester

Chapter 6 Making Space in Urban Interstices
Making, wage labour and place-making in Newcastle upon
Tyne Abigail Schoneboom, Newcastle University

Chapter 7 “You make do with what you’ve got”
Makeshift structures and the moral economy of affective labour in post-industrial Manchester
Luciana Lang, Manchester Metropolitan University

Chapter 8 Green is not always perfectly green
Temporality, decay and open spaces in riverside Turin (Italy)
Lucilla Barchetta, University of Turin


Dr Gillian Evans is an urban anthropologist and senior lecturer of social anthropology at the University of Manchester. She has a special interest in the transformation of post-industrial cities, in particular London, England, with her research focusing on the material and social transformation of the Docklands and riverside industry on both sides of the River Thames. She is concerned to explain what it means for the societies we live in that once thriving industries and manufacturing sites like docks, coal mines, steelworks, potteries and so on have declined and closed down whilst a new service sector, retail, knowledge and financial services economy has grown and prospered under conditions that are increasingly liberal to capital interests at the expense of people living in poverty.

Anthropology; Sociology; Ethnography; Post-Industrial; Neoliberal; Precarity; Precariousness; Precarisation; Protest; Resistance; Resilience; Social Welfare; Urban Planning; Governance; City; Ruin; Ruination; Urban Uncertainty; Uncertain Lives; Making; Makers; Community; Culture; Race; Multiculturalism; Brexit; Environment; Political Ecology; Cultural Economy; Creativity; Cultural Regeneration; Regeneration; Gentrification; Materiality; Sociality; Industry; Industrial; Manufacture; Manufacturing; Retail; Service Economy; Knowledge Economy; Finance; Financial Economy; Urbanism; Expulsion; Frontier; Favela; Pacification

See also

Bibliographic Information

Book Title

Post-Industrial Precarity: New Ethnographies of Urban Lives in Uncertain Times





Number of pages


Physical size

236mm x 160mm


3 B&W and 47 Color

Publication date

January 2020