Sarah Kunz
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Remaking the Shell expatriate
From company wife to global citizen
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Chapter 4 traces the transformation of Royal Dutch Shell’s expatriate at the turn of the twenty-first century. In the mid-1990s, in the context of a broader corporate restructure and in response to gendered challenges to its management model, Shell enacted a neoliberal reform of its system of expatriation and introduced a diversity agenda. It transformed its expatriates from loyal ‘Shell families’ that migrated within the ‘Shell world’ into individualised and flexible mobile workers circulating within a global labour market. This reform, however, did not change the patriarchal constitution of the Shell expatriate, or decolonise this managerial institution. Meanwhile, a group of ‘Shell wives’ founded the Shell Ladies’ Project to collect their own memories and position themselves as expatriates in their own right. The Shell Ladies’ Project and its subsequent development into an independent archive of expatriate social history mirrors organisational and societal trends in the gradual transmutation of women’s identity, from the company-rooted ‘Shell wife’ into the ‘global expat’ at the heart of globalisation. Chapter 4 thus traces, through the transforming Shell expatriate, the fashioning of neoliberal forms of elite migration and its ideological ideal-type: the transnational professional, commanding a global consciousness and skill set, moving self-directed and flexibly, at home in the world.

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