(An extract from Jeff Ferrell, Keith Hayward, and Jock Young, Cultural Criminology: An Invitation. London: SAGE, forthcoming Sept. 2008)
The Italian phrase ‘non so a che santo votarmi’—‘I don’t know which saint to pray to’—expresses a profound hopelessness about future prospects. Afflicted by the hopelessness of the late capitalist service economy, a group of young workers in Milan have created San Precario, the ‘patron saint of precarious, casualised, sessional, intermittent, temporary, flexible, project, freelance and fractional workers’. A ‘detournement of popular tradition’ (Tari and Vanni) and a prank on Italian religious life, Saint Precario appears in processions and protest marches, at fast food outlets or temporary employment agencies, or at a supermarket deli counter (dressed as a supermarket worker). In each case he (or she—San Precario is transgendered) is said to carve out from the tedium of everyday service work a temporary autonomous zone (Bey), to create a moment of subversive carnival (Presdee, 2000), perhaps even to resurrect the old IWW/Wobbly politics of humorous defiance (Shukaitis, 2007).
Most remarkably, San Precario was even able to infiltrate the prestigious Milan Fashion Week 2005, in the persona of ersatz fashion designer Serpica Naro (an anagram of San Precario). As illicitly invented by media-savvy service workers in the fashion industry and fashion media, Serpica Naro came complete with a biography, website, press clippings, and history of public controversy. And when Naro finally staged a fashion show during Fashion Week 2005, precarious workers posing as protesters threatened to disrupt it—all of which generated a police presence, intensive media coverage, and so, ultimately, public awareness of the plight of precarious workers.