INEQ Research Seminar, Spring 2023

A new class of privileged, yet precarious labour? Mobilities, work and the weakening welfare state in a post-pandemic context
When & Where

14:00 - 16:00 on Tuesday May 23rd, 2023

Seminar Room 209 (Vuorikatu 3, Helsinki)

Format: in person and online [Zoom link to be sent to all registered participants]

Please register your participation here.


Work, mobilities and citizenship are closely tied to one another – particularly in welfare societies. On the one hand, the relationship between citizenship, work and welfare is visible in how welfare and social provisions are granted on the basis of one’s citizenship status, and how taxation and pension systems are structured within states. On the other hand, the mobility rights are also based on one’s citizenship status and the premise of work. For instance, EU-citizens’ mobility rights are predicated on the development of free movement of labour in the EU zone. Work also continues to be framed as a right or obligation for non-EU-citizens’ rights in terms of their residency and mobility rights, thus putting non-EU citizens at greater risk of exclusion. All these aspects also include gendered and racialised dimensions that shape individuals’ positioning and experiences in the labour market, and depending on the citizenship status, their access to mobility rights and welfare provisions.

The connections between work, mobilities and citizenship are rapidly changing in the post-Covid19 context. Toppled with digitalisation, remote work has become more common. The increase in location-independent work is leading to new types of privileged mobilities among EU residents that differ from touristic mobilities, yet that do not resemble migratory movements either. At the same time, the existing welfare system is largely constructed on the assumption of worker-citizens’ immobility and permanent residence status within such states where one holds citizenship or legal residence. This raises serious questions about the production of inequalities and mechanisms of exclusion. For instance, labour production is to a lesser degree tied to a nation-state, due to the digitalisation and the globalisation of labour markets. Yet, the individual remains to be tied to the nation-state through taxation, health care provisions, pension system, permanent address, mobility rights, citizenship and so forth. This discrepancy becomes visible with the increase in transnational mobilities of continuous nature and has the potential to produce new forms of inequalities in form of weakening collective protections and welfare citizenship.

The speakers of this seminar tackle this thematic through their ongoing projects.

Keywords: Precarity, inequality, work, mobility, welfare state, citizenship


FNRS Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Anna Simola, UC Louvain/University of Helsinki

Dr. Anna Simola is a FNRS Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Interdisciplinary Research Center on Families and Sexualities (CIRFASE) at the Catholic University of Louvain, Belgium (2022-2025). She is also an affiliated postdoctoral researcher at the Centre of Excellence for Research on Ageing and Care (RG 3 Migration, Care and Ageing) at the University of Helsinki. Her research interests range from sociology of personal life to critical research on EU migration, precarious work, street-level welfare states and neoliberal governmentality. Her current research investigates familial affinities and family mobilities in European transnational families in the particular context of disruptive crises such as the global pandemic, the climate crisis and the war in Ukraine. Her work has been published in journals such as Sociology, Work, Employment and Society, Journal of European Social Policy and Global Networks.

Academy Research Fellow, Mari Toivanen, University of Helsinki

Dr. Mari Toivanen works as Academy of Finland Research Fellow at the Swedish School of Social Science, University of Helsinki (2020-2025). Her research focuses on lifestyle mobilities and location-independent work in form of digital nomadism. Her publications have appeared e.g. in Ethnic and Racial Studies, Ethnicities, Social Inclusion, Journal of Genocide Research and Nordic Journal of Migration Research, and her award-winning monograph on the Kurdish diaspora mobilisation in France was published in 2021 by Helsinki University Press. She has co-edited several volumes and is the co-editor of the book series Transnationalism and Diaspora by the Edinburgh University Press. For more information on her ongoing project, please visit:

Postdoctoral Researcher, Olivia Maury, University of Helsinki

Dr. Olivia Maury is a postdoctoral researcher at the Faculty of Social Science at the University of Helsinki, working in the research project Tackling Precarious and Informal Work in the Nordic Countries (PrecaNord 2022-2026). Olivia’s research stretches across the fields of critical migration studies, socio-legal studies, and the sociology of work, focusing on how the digitisation of society impacts labour-migration, generates new tensions between migrants’ subjective desires and capitalist value accumulation. Olivia’s research has been published in journals such as Work, Employment and Society, Sociology, Current Sociology and The Nordic Journal of Migration Research. Olivia received her doctoral degree from the Faculty of Social Sciences of the University of Helsinki in 2021.


Disposable labour? Social reproductive struggles of precarious young EU migrants under neoliberal regimes of mobility, work and welfare   

Anna Simola

In this presentation, I engage with theoretical discussions on social reproduction under neoliberal regimes of mobility, work and welfare by revisiting the findings from a qualitative study (Simola, 2021) that investigated university-educated European Union (EU) citizens’ experiences of free mobility in conditions of precarious labour. The participants of this study were young adults who moved to Brussels from two southern European and two Nordic countries in search of work corresponding to their education and their ‘passion’. However, while all of them perceived mobility as the central prerequisite of finding such work, they subsequently experienced unemployment and worked under precarious arrangements of different kinds, including various forms of non-waged labour. Additionally, their precarious labour position often exposed them to work-related conditionality rulings enforced by national institutions that blocked their access to social security entitlements. I will zoom into the consequent problematic situations in which many of them spent protracted periods of time working without adequate wages, while also unable to access social protection to secure subsistence. How did they sustain their lives under such adverse conditions and why did they continue their endeavours in Brussels despite of them? The presentation focuses on three interlinked struggles of social reproduction in the participants’ lives, and the inequalities arising among them in their intersections. Namely, I address 1) the temporal struggles related to the substantial time the participants invested in non-waged work; 2) their material struggles of subsistence, dependency and debt; and 3) their embodied struggles related to the reproduction of their capacity to work and sustain their lives in both physical and psychological sense. While university-educated but precarious EU migrants are not the only migrant group facing social reproductive struggles as a consequence of restrictive welfare and border regimes, nor the one most vulnerable to the consequences of such regimes, I claim that their ambiguous status as EU ‘migrant citizens’ is particularly illustrative of the blurry, changeable and consequential boundaries that define the social and legal-administrative categories of ‘citizen’ and ‘worker’ in contemporary Europe. As such, their experiences highlight some critical concerns regarding migration and social reproduction under neoliberal regimes.

Freedom, but at what cost? Notes on digital nomadism

Mari Toivanen

The current lifestyle mobilities, including digital nomadism, are the direct result of past decades’ global developments, namely digitalisation, economic accumulation, more general freedom of movement for (some) individuals, the increase in knowledge-based economies and the so-called “gig economy”, and more recently the Covid19 pandemic. Often nationals of Global North countries, digital nomads enjoy relatively privileged mobility rights, which enables their nomadic lifestyle. Whereas digital nomadism has been viewed as signalling the “death of office” and as a manifestation of ultimate freedom, this often-celebratory lifestyle can also introduce new forms of precarity for location-independent workers in form of weakening welfare protections. In this presentation, I ask: What does precarity mean in the context of digital nomad lifestyle? Do digital nomads, i.e. location-independent lifestyle movers, represent a new class of privileged, yet precarious workers? The observations are based on qualitative fieldwork conducted within the Academy of Finland project on digital nomadism that examines the intersections between the emerging lifestyle mobilities and the changing nature of work in the post-Covid context.

The Racialized Borders of Talent Attraction: Student-Migrants in Location-dependent Gig Work

Olivia Maury

In this paper, I critically assess the governmental aims of ‘channeling of the expertise and talent of international graduates’ in the ’innovation economy’. I approach the innovation economy as a frame to apprehend how bodies are moved and hierarchically ordered with the support of the border regime and the associated administrative-legal practices. Drawing on qualitative data with people migrating for studies Finland (collected in 2018-2020; 2021-2023), I analyse these people’s input in location-dependent gig work in Helsinki. I thereby address the tension between the subjective aim of graduating and finding work according to one’s qualifications and the everyday experiences of low paid precarious work. I furthermore highlight the converging racialising processes which shape the lived experiences of work, and which structure the ‘hyper-competitive planetary labour market’ (Woodcock and Graham 2019). Hence, I emphasize how racialized difference sustains capitalist value accumulation because it is the differentiated and heterogenous (and not the homogenous) labor power that feeds capital accumulation (Robinson 2000). Methodologically, I articulate a refusal of reiterating the abstract discourse of international students and talented migrants as the incorporation of the innovation economy, without attending to its material foundations, including its reliance on low-paid labour force, and without acknowledging the struggles and desires of these subjects as well as the inequalities produced between them. In conclusion, through a close examination of migrants’ experiences and hopes concerning education and work in Finland, the paper offers insights to counter naïve claims concerning the international competition for talents suggesting that “talent does not care about administrative county borders” (Talent Boost Cookbook Finland 2.0 2020: 8).