What are your worst insecurities

Life plans

Klaus Dörre

To person

Dr. phil., born 1957; Professor of Work, Industrial and Economic Sociology at the Friedrich Schiller University Jena, Carl-Zeiß-Straße 2, 07743 Jena.
Email: [email protected]

Insecurity only acts as an incentive if a certain level of income and employment stability is ensured. Precariousness can be associated with a multitude of options; It does not mean a gain in freedom.


The sparrows whistle from the rooftops: We live - and not just since the financial and economic crisis - in uncertain times. Losing the ability to plan one's own life has become a key experience. Our entire life is embedded in the rule of law and welfare state safety nets, but nevertheless "concerns about security remain omnipresent". [1] They employ large parts of the population, although or precisely because the worst excesses of violence and social misery in Western societies have been largely contained. Even if the feeling of insecurity in no way corresponds directly to objective threats, it is anything but a mere expression of a specific mentality of woe. The uncertainty is fed by changes in the deep structure of society. The epicenter of these changes can be located in the economic and in the employment system. The "return of social insecurity" [2] also has a cultural and a political dimension.

The fact that social insecurity is increasingly having an impact on life plans and individual biographies may appear to be an unsurprising observation at first glance. After all, individualization theorists such as Ulrich Beck had already diagnosed in the mid-1980s that liberation from the constraints and unquestionable obligations of the first modernity resulted in the individual becoming more and more the "last reproductive unit of the social". [3] Each and every individual is forced to act as a planning center for their own life plan if they are punished for permanent disadvantage. While this diagnosis was mainly based on the phenomenon of an increasing variety of biographical options that had to be dealt with in everyday life, today another problem is noticeable on a biographical level. The collective "elevator effect" to which Beck linked his diagnosis of the time has long since changed direction. Instead of going up, large social groups collectively go down. This inevitably affects the possibilities and abilities to cope with insecurity in a biographical manner.

The way in which individuals deal with uncertainty, according to the thesis advocated here, inevitably depends on the availability of specific material and cultural resources. Insecurity can only be deciphered as a productive biographical challenge if a certain level of income and employment stability is ensured. If this is not the case, then insecurity has a biographical effect more like "a virus that penetrates everyday life, dissolves social relationships and undermines the psychological structures of individuals". [4] Precisely because the individual is increasingly required to be the planning center for their own craft biography, it must have fatal consequences if they gradually lose the resources that make their individual planning ability possible in the first place.