Until recently I was under the impression that it is a recent term based on the works of Guy Standing. All publications (currently) cited in the Wikipedia page on the topic are from 2010 or newer. But I found a paper (from different authors) dating to 2005 using it in its title "‘Velkom tu Hell’: Precariat Moscow". So does anyone know the origin of the term? Who coined it first and with what meaning?

Since the relevance of the term to politics has been questioned, I'll point out that it has entered political science, e.g. "What happened to Europe’s left? From proletariat to precariat" and the discourse of acadmics idenftifed with the left, e.g. Chomsky's "Plutonomy and the Precariat". Guy Standing himself has an article titled "The Precariat: why it needs deliberative democracy" which just by its title implies that some political solution is needed. The more politically neutral terms roughly synonymous are "alternative work arrangements", "contingent work", "flexible work" and the like. And I'm not asking about those here. And in case it's still not obvious there's a political viewpoint involved, here's a one-paragraph summary of Standing's book:

Guy Standing’s book, The Precariat, argues that a new social class is forming in response to global capital’s call for labour market flexibility. This call for flexibility is not so much a win-win agreement with employees that would allow them to provide their labour in places, times, and ways that would fit their lifestyles. Rather, it is a move to reduce labour costs in support of global capitalism through a range of strategies and actions. It involves more temporary jobs without benefits. It involves the relocation of jobs to places with lower labour costs. It involves using migrants as cheap labour, contributing to what Standing suggests as “the greatest migration in history” (180). It involves disconnecting benefits from particular jobs. All of these efforts to create a more flexible labor market involve the pursuit to lower labour costs for global capitalism and in the process “making employees more insecure” (10). The precariat are the increasing number of the world’s workers who are most susceptible to labour market flexibility. They are the ones who lives are becoming increasingly precarious.

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    Excuse my noobishness, but why is this a bad question to ask here? Commented Jul 4, 2018 at 10:54
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    I am not the person who downvoted, but looking up the term, precariat is a term from sociology/economics rather than political science. More generally, this seems entirely a language question that some would prefer to see on English Language & Usage rather than on a social science stack.
    – Brythan
    Commented Jul 4, 2018 at 12:14
  • @Brythan Yes, but the term has entered political science, to some degree e.g. blogs.lse.ac.uk/politicsandpolicy/… or opendemocracy.net/guy-standing/… (In the latter Guy Standing himself proposes that the phenomenon requires polical solutions.) If one were to argue that the term "proletariat" has nothing to do with politcs because it's a social theory term... Commented Jul 4, 2018 at 12:19

2 Answers 2


The term actually dates from at least 19th century (though nothing seems found before from 1500s to 1870s):

  • From "The English Village Community Examined in Its Relations to the Manorial and ..." By Frederic Seebohm, 1884

    Precariat, or boon-work — i.e. special work at request (' ad precem ' or 'at bene'), sometimes counting as part of the week-work, sometimes extra to it. 3. Payments in money or kind or work, rendered by way of rent or 'Gafol'; and various dues,

  • "On the Theories on Usury Adopted Or Enforced by the Ecclesiastical ..." by John Batteridge Pearson, 1876

    Precariat was a form by which persons surrendered lands or estates to the Church on condition of receiving back a share during their own lifetime, or that of their heirs, under certain limitations. In this decree (which possibly may be a

The latter is earlier but the meaning doesn't seem to match, whereas the former has a matching meaning

Source: nGram


I'm gonna note this titbid here because it's too long for a comment. The "precariat" word was indeed used in the manifest of the Italian group that organised the 2004 San Precario gig, namely in "Il Manifesto Bio-Pop del Precariato Metroradicale", the text of which appears with accompanying translation in a 2005 issue of The Fibreculture Journal:

Noi siamo la generazione post-socialista, la generazione del dopo guerra fredda, della fine delle burocrazie verticali e del controllo sull'informazione. Siamo un movimento globale e neuropeo, che porta avanti la rivoluzione democratica scaturita dal Sessantotto mondiale e lotta contro la distopia neoliberista oggi al culmine. Siamo ecoattivisti e mediattivisti, siamo i libertari della Rete e i metroradicali dello spazio urbano, siamo le mutazioni transgender del femminismo globale, siamo gli hacker del terribile reale. Siamo gli agitatori del precariato e gli insorti del cognitariato. Siamo anarcosindacalisti e postsocialisti. Siamo tutti migranti alla ricerca di una vita migliore. E non ci riconosciamo in voi, stratificazioni tetre e tetragone di ceti politici sconfitti già nel XX secolo. Non ci riconosciamo nella sinistra italyana.

We are the post-socialist generation, the post-cold war generation, the end of vertical bureaucracies and of information control generation. We are a global and neuropean movement, which brings forward the democratic revolution started in 1968 and the struggle against the neoliberal dystopia at its peak today. We are eco-activists and media-activists, we are the libertarians of the Net and the metroradicals of urban spaces, we are the transgender mutations of global feminism, we are the hackers of the terrible real. We are the agitators of precariat and the insurgents of cognitariat. We are anarcho-unionists and post-socialist. We are all migrants looking for a better life. And we do not recognise ourselves in you, gloomy and tetragon layerings of political classes already defeated in the XX century. We do not recognise ourselves in the Italyan Left.

Note that there are no spelling errors (at least in the English translation), the unusual words in English are an attempt to translate as faithfully as possible the Italian words used... some of which might be attempts at neologisms (e.g. "neuropean") and some of which I'm not sure, e.g. why Italian with an Y in Italyan Left (mockery perhaps?)

As to the origin of the term, the Fiberculture article claims that

It is necessary here to stress that the words “precarious-precarity-precariat” are a linguistic innovation, which in the last year has spread from Italy and Spain to all the European networks engaged in a reflection on casualisation. Superseding the better known terms “flexibility-flexworker”, the introduction of “precarious-precarity-precariat” marks the emergence of struggles that are constituent of a new terminology and new imaginary from which, in turn, new rights come to light.

  • Based on the suggestion from the above paragraph, also tried to find some French articles (around that time) that use the term, but I couldn't only find one talking of the "strucural precarisation of work", which is a bit less poigniant than to claim a new social class. Looking through its references, the "Précarisation" discourse goes back at least to 1997 or so. Commented Jul 4, 2018 at 16:39
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    This is an old answer, but I stumbled upon it and I can tell you that the term "lavoratore precario" is much older in Italian. From google ngrams you can see that the term seems to have exploded in 1968 (and no one familiar with Italian history will be surprised by that) Commented May 21, 2019 at 10:32

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