Daniel Pink, author of Free Agent Nation, makes being a ‘free agent’ sound pretty great. But then as a former political insider at the heart of the Democratic machine in the 90s and more latterly a business guru and best selling author, it seems likely that his experiences of being a free agent have been, well, pretty great.
But my point is not to attack the concept. After a number of years as a self-styled ‘freelance sociologist’, albeit not an enormously well paid one, I have long seen the attraction of the model of work Pink so appealingly describes. However it’s in that self same capacity qua sociologist that I can’t help but recognise the duality of this ‘freedom’ and how emblematic it is of the ambivalent nature of life in late capitalism. As Zygmunt Bauman has argued in his work on globalization, mobility is the condition of those at the very top and the very bottom. The global elite slip free of national constraints, circulating the globe in cosmopolitan splender as they lead their strange dance with similarly mobile global capital. Meanwhile those at the bottom are equally mobile, as the struggle for shelter and sustenance inculcates the frantic mobility of the migrant.
Likewise the free agent nation might be great for some, as they escape the deadening bonds of sedentary bureaucracy and fashion a protean occupational self beyond the constraints which bind others. But for most others, it’s a life of insecurity and risk, an increasingly vicious cycle of unemployment, underemployment and fixed term contracts. Perhaps Pink’s book would benefit from a new subtitle? Free Agent Nation: what precarity looks like for the winners.