How is Language Implicated in Navigating Precarity? Language Work Among Young Adults in Great Yarmouth, UK

8th February 2024

Tom Parkerson – Postgraduate Researcher, UEA DEV


This research combines insights into the anthropology of precarity and the role of language in navigating working-life to explore the implications of navigating precarious work through language. It is motivated by two concurrent trends: 1) an increase in jobs that require workers to deploy specific linguistic competencies (talking, writing, “communication skills”), and 2) the precariatisation of jobs that makes working-life increasingly insecure, unstable, and uncertain. Recent literature on the former highlights the importance of “language work” (Boutet, 2011) in securing/maintaining employment in occupations like retail, service and hospitality, and call centres. Literature on the latter demonstrates that successfully navigating precarious life (working or otherwise) requires managing economic resources but also multiple, performed identities (Allison, 2013; Muehlebach, 2011). Research exploring how these trends relate to one another, however, are rare.

This research seeks to address this gap, exploring how proficiencies in different kinds of “language work” serve as a means to acquire and maintain different forms of employment; and then asks how the management of these proficiencies are complicated when working-life is defined by precarity. Fieldwork will consist of a 12-month ethnography of young adults (18-24) and their peers in Great Yarmouth, UK, which, as a seaside town reliant on seasonal tourism, has a unique relationship to both linguistic performance and precarious life (Council, 2019).