Abstract only
Work, narrative and identity in a market age

The global financial crisis of the early twenty-first century focused attention on the processes that sustain the excesses of corporate capitalism. This book gives an account of the role played by literature in human subjectivity and identity under the working conditions of late-capitalism as these affect the well-being of specialist, middle-class and public sector professionals. It explores how the organisation struggles to reconcile the flexibility and responsiveness characteristic of modern business with the unity and stability needed for a coherent image. Next, an examination of business survivor manuals addressing the needs of employees failing to cope with time-pressure and the required transformation into perfect new economy workers discovers their use of appealing narrative principles. The book covers the theoretical foundations on which assumptions about the subjectivity and identity of the professional middle class have been made, including the ideological pressures and contradictions. It also investigates satisfying work more fully through analysis of popular practical instruction books on cookery and horticulture. The book considers how organic activities involving slow time, such as horticulture, cookery and the craft of writing about them, give a strong cultural message concerning the current organisation of time, work satisfaction and relationships. In particular, it deals with how the human feels attuned to balance, continuity and interconnectedness through the cyclical patterns and regulated rhythms of slower evolutionary change evident in natural systems. The nature of the autobiographic text is also considered in the book.

Abstract only

This chapter considers Ian McEwan's novel Saturday to demonstrate how the influence of the market economy is so pervasive, so culturally embedded, that the themes already identified and their effect on the public sector individual, are captured, reflected and normalised in mainstream artistic production. The institutional attempt to bend employees to its way of thinking and being is part of a well-rehearsed debate of industrial history. Contemporary business methods and processes threaten Henry Perowne's professional identity and undermine both his status and security as he loses control over aspects of his life. With the relentless accumulation of the administrative load, work in the new economy, aided by information technology, replicates the psychic problems of industrial conveyor-belt automation, work needing attention arriving at a rate over which the worker has no control.

in Telling tales
Abstract only

In relating narrative to identity, this chapter examines how a time-related structure forms a critical element of meaning when constant change and short-term market-driven goals deny the relevance of the past and make experience episodic rather than continuous. If the flexibility, fragmentation and impermanence characteristic of the new economy are corroding our character, the search may point to situations in which other more durable and desirable human qualities can be developed and demonstrated. When mankind, at the top of the evolutionary tree, hubristically assigns primacy of being to itself, the traditions, laws and heroes must be sought within society. In seeking escape from the workplace, migrants appear to take both a physical and spiritual journey in a move to recapture and espouse actions, values, attitudes and behaviours lost in the Anglo-American cultural model.

in Telling tales
Abstract only

Narratives that establish the self as a being that is part of a natural order structured by biological and ecological rhythms sever allegiance to the mainstream economic order and substitute its value set with another. The move away from the 'natural state of things' is a consequence of industrialisation, mechanisation, automation and, lately, computer technology. This shift has been marked also by gravitation from the rural to the urban, and from the agricultural to the corporate. The interest in horticulture and cookery, enacted in both informal (dispersed) and formal (rooted) communities of likeminded individuals, is precisely the effort to deal with the identity problems of postmodern life in the secular context. The Slow Food movement, founded in 1989 as part of a wider slow living ethos counteracting not only fast food, but fast life also promotes food's central role in a new narrative.

in Telling tales
Abstract only

The end of twentieth century and the beginning of twenty-first century were marked by two phenomena, the increasing production of, and interest in biography and autobiography, alongside an intense (re)engagement with traditional, creative, craft-based labours, particularly cookery and horticulture. The arrival on the booksellers' shelves since 1990 of a number of autobiographic 'escape' narratives is testimony both to the act of migration and the act of writing about it. Richard Sennett claims in The Craftsman 'that the craft of making physical things provides insight into the techniques of experience that can shape our dealings with others'. A recent British Academy debate, Posterity: Present concerns with the future suggested that 'post-war social and economic debacles and looming ecological disaster have bred despair and anomie' and that 'without hope for posterity, life becomes bleak and society self-destructs'.

in Telling tales
Abstract only

This chapter describes the role played by literature in human subjectivity and identity under the working conditions of late-capitalism as these affect the well-being of specialist, middle-class and public sector professionals. While stress is recognised as increasing in the workplace, its cause is commonly attributed to job insecurity linked to recessional conditions. Two of the many critics who have looked at the psychological effects of the instabilities of the new economy are Richard Layard and Madeleine Bunting. They have commented on the relationship of professional status for motivation and well-being in the context of public reform. Ian McEwan's novel Saturday is a mainstream creative text that includes a reflection of contemporary cultural issues concerning the experience of the professional at work. By analysing various forms of literature, the attempt has been made to understand how other types of labour counter the experiential difficulties caused by modern work conditions.

in Telling tales
Abstract only
Fast time and workplace identity

This introduction presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The book argues that the structural instability and the accelerated pace of life driven by the conditions for 'flexible accumulation' makes meaningful existence and fulfilment in work ever more difficult. It considers the importation of market values to the public sector and their import for the attitudes and behaviours of its middle-class professional employees. The book considers Ian McEwan's novel Saturday to show how story is used to make sense of experience and how coherent identity is constructed by the suppression of contradiction. It looks at the nature of the autobiographic text, drawing on the form's history and contemporary manifestation in migrant travelogues to understand its particular appeal at this time of structural instability and biographical uncertainty.

in Telling tales
Abstract only

This chapter discusses how persuasive and pervasive market influence interpellates the subject, through various forms of corporate communication, including organisational structure, practices and languages, to become a new kind of worker, a new kind of citizen. A corporate priority is to use communications to maintain and manage relationships with various parties (stakeholders) that have an interest in its business. The chapter argues that the public sector alliance with market principles fundamentally alters the culture and diminishes the rewards of proper service on which, in large part, the identity of public servants rests. Corporate empowerment rhetoric urging employees' self-responsibility allows the organisation to externalise any unfortunate outcomes of its actions. This locates the fault in individual weakness in some unnamed and impersonal force outside any control, as we have seen is often the case where management avoids taking responsibility.

in Telling tales
Abstract only

This chapter contextualises the work-based identity insecurity experienced by middle-class professionals in the public sector among the general identity-making problems of postmodernity and other cultural determinants of the group. The problem of achieving a secure identity from among the instabilities of modern life has exercised many contemporary theorists. It is pertinent to question one's capacity for deliberate action when modern life is characterised by an accelerated pace and the ever-changing conditions brought about by the short-termism and quick turnover demands of the new economy. Managing negative emotions requires the development of different strengths of character whose acquisition involves much longer and harder work. In classical psychological theory, an act of narration is required at this point as the means to clarify identity and maintain good mental health.

in Telling tales