Dissertation Abstracts

Work, identity and the “good life”. The representation of work among highly educated young income support users

Author: Costanza Guazzo, costanza.guazzo@gmail.com
Department: CPS
University: University of Turin, Italy
Supervisor: Prof. A. Meo
Year of completion: In progress
Language of dissertation: ENGLISH

Keywords: poverty , identity , work , youth
Areas of Research: Youth , Poverty, Social Welfare and Social Policy , Communication, Knowledge and Culture


The concept of “work ethic” describes the way people are encouraged to relate to work beyond material necessity: work, in this frame, is something rich in meaning for the identity, strongly related to the economic regime in which it takes place. The idea of enjoying and deriving meaning from one’s work is at the heart of work in the post-fordist work ethic (Weeks 2012; Farrugia 2021). But precariousness is the norm in Mediterranean economies, and work is for many young adults simply insufficient to gain economic independence (Saraceno et al. 2021). Drawing from qualitative interviews with young high-skilled income support users in Italy, the research seeks to understand how work is framed by young adults in a situation of deep economic uncertainty and underemployment. How do young Italians respond to the discourse of work as self-realization when the promise of work as a source of social mobility is as unreliable as the flip of a coin? This essay contains three overtures. First, I analyze how young high-skilled users use the conditional basic income policy ‘Reddito di Cittadinanza’ (RDC) in relation to precarious and discontinuous work. Even though they are one of the most exposed groups to vulnerability, young adults are rarely seen as a target for social policies in Italy, where access to welfare support is still strongly mediated by the family of origin. Second, I analyze the role of work for the identities of young high-skilled RDC users. I consider what meaning work has for the planning of a good life, and in the transition towards adulthood. Last, I consider the ways in which young users relate to the post-fordist work ethic when talking about work, looking at the values they live up to and the values they distance from. I establish a typology considering their investment in work for self-realization and happiness even when facing deep economic uncertainty. I conclude by discussing how the joint effect of the pandemic and structural job insecurity, skills mismatch and the unreliable promises of the work ethic seem to have opened the gate to a shift towards a different idea of work, that separates its role as a source of income and as a source of identity and self-fulfillment.