The New Insecurity

The End of the Standard Job and Family

By Jerald Wallulis

Subjects: School Change And Reform
Series: SUNY series in Social and Political Thought
Paperback : 9780791436561, 256 pages, December 1997
Hardcover : 9780791436554, 256 pages, December 1997

Alternative formats available from:

Table of contents


Preface: No Longer Secure

Introduction: Destandardized Lives

Part I: A Genealogy of the Secure Individual

1. Docile Bodies and Constant Minds

2. Disciplinary Police and Liberal "Governing Better"

3. The Interweaving of Social Insurance and Social Protection

4. The Secure Individual

Part II: "The New Realities": Economic and Social Impermanence

5. The Death of Company Loyalty and the Birth of Corporate Support

6. Functional Flexibility and Job Compression

7. Flexibility on the Margins and the Destandardization of Work

8. Intimacy, Independence, and Insecurity

Part III: The Struggle for Employability and the Fear of Inadequacy

9. The Planning Office as Opportunity and as Self-Expression

10. Work as Chapter and as Episode

11. The New Insecurity

12. The Prospects of the Secure Individual

Appendix: Three Proposals for Income Assistance




Examines the impact of the loss of expectations of permanent employment and enduring family relationships on individuals today and explores how changes in the collective endeavor to provide security could help.


Since 1973, the median family income in the United States has remained static, in marked contrast to the period from 1947 to 1973, when it actually doubled. Downsizing and corporate restructuring have produced widespread worries about employment, health-care coverage, and pension benefits. The American dream of a well-paid, permanent job, upward mobility, secure home ownership, and greater prosperity for one's children is for many today a remote, even romantic notion. Perhaps equally unrealistic is the expectation of sharing the American dream with the same marriage partner for all of one's adulthood.

The New Insecurity contrasts this new insecurity with a more secure past, when there were career ladders, factories stayed at home, and marriages lasted. But it also places it in a wider historical context, tracing it back to the docile bodies of Michel Foucault and the constant minds of Gerhard Oestreich at the very beginnings of the modern army. "Fight, don't flee," the command given then, has changed, according to the advice of business manuals today, to "don't stay too long" and "keep your options open." Jerald Wallulis offers a framework for understanding this individual uncertainty, arguing that today's challenges to traditional life planning are not momentary, nor will the free-floating economic anxiety disappear when the next "real" economic recovery comes.

But Wallulis also makes the case that the envied security of past generations did not depend on their prospects for long-term, full-time employment alone. It was also made possible by the development of social insurance programs designed to provide protection against unemployment, disability, and old-age indigency. This book emphasizes the contribution of the "insurance state" to the achievement of individual security and explores how programs of income assistance could protect the individual against the strong income fluctuations so prevalent in the new job market.

Jerald Wallulis is Associate Professor in the Department of Philosophy at the University of South Carolina. He is coeditor of Changing Social Science: Critical Theory and Other Critical Perspectives, also published by SUNY Press, and author of The Hermeneutics of Life History: Personal Achievement and History in Gadamer, Habermas, and Erikson.


"The New Insecurity identifies issues that are really central to today's society, particularly American society, and hence also to social criticism. Wallulis's book is the Dilbert phenomenon in of course much greater depth, with interesting historical background, elaborated with the assistance of techniques taken from Foucault, and with additional tie-ins with the situation of the contemporary family. It is in fact an in-depth look at the novel, and in some respects frightening, structures of everyday life into which our society has been descending over the past twenty years or so." — William L. McBride, Purdue University