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Resisting Work

Resisting Work: The Corporatization of Life and Its Discontents

Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Temple University Press
Pages: 210
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  • Book Info
    Resisting Work
    Book Description:

    A job is no longer something we "do," but instead something we "are." As the boundaries between work and non-work have dissolved, we restructure ourselves and our lives using social ingenuity to get things done and be resourceful outside the official workday.

    In his provocative book,Resisting WorkPeter Fleming insists that many jobs in the West are now regulated by a new matrix of power-biopower-where "life itself" is put to work through our ability to self-organize around formal rules. This neoliberal system of employment tries to absorb our life attributes--from our consumer tastes, "downtime," and sexuality--into employment so that questions of human capital and resources replace questions of employee, worker, and labor.

    Fleming then suggests that the corporation turns to communal life-what he calls "the common"-in order to reproduce itself and reinforce corporate culture. Yet a resistance against this new definition of work is in effect, and Fleming shows how it may already be taking shape.

    eISBN: 978-1-4399-1114-3
    Subjects: Sociology, Business, Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction: Why Work?
    (pp. 1-22)

    A young university lecturer enters a London pub late Friday night with a backpack of undergraduate exams in urgent need of grading, within a matter of days, in fact—external auditors are already waiting to sign off on them. She wearily looks around, tired and irritated, moving toward the crowded bar to wait. What a mess this has become, and through no fault of her own. The impossible deadline for grading the 450 exams she received that day was apparent months ago, and she had dutifully alerted university management to the coming disaster should they fail to authorize the additional...

  5. 1 Come as You Are: The New Corporate Enclosure Movement
    (pp. 23-42)

    The best way to think about how biopower characterizes work today is to play a little thought experiment. Imagine if the sociologist Max Weber were to enter the offices and service outlets that make up a large majority of workplaces in the West today. There would be, of course, much that he would recognize. The filing systems might have been computerized and the old-fashion dark oak décor replaced by the glare of eco-friendly fluorescent lights, but the cubicles and background hum of rationality would be familiar.

    Some features, however, would completely dumbfound our German time-traveler. Rather than the officeholder and...

  6. 2 Common Matters
    (pp. 43-61)

    In a period of profound crisis, capitalism’s desperate reliance on social qualities it cannot guarantee itself is easy to observe in most workplaces today. The double travesty of neoliberalism is straightforward. It clearly diminishes our life chances in a drastic way, but it also enlists us to help with that goal. Because it cannot reproduce its own anti-social tenets alone, we are brought into the picture. And most of us really do not want to be involved—hence biopower’s emphasis on things that look likenon-work.Corporate capitalism wants everything about us that blooms before the moment of exploitation.


  7. 3 Why the Corporation Does Not Work: A Brief History
    (pp. 62-83)

    In the best-selling book (and movie)The Corporation(Bakan 2005), we are presented with a very critical reading of the nature of the modern capitalist enterprise. According to Bakan, if the corporation—so defined as a limited-liability, publicly listed firm—were to be considered a person (as per company law) then it would display the traits of someone potentially insane, a psychopath. This person has a myopic understanding of the world, treats everyone around them as an instrumental means, displays little empathy or sense of personal responsibility, and is driven by selfish ends. And it is this institutional form that...

  8. 4 Corporate Culture and Coming Bioproletariat
    (pp. 84-102)

    Two images of work thirty years apart reveal that the way capitalism exploits the workforce in the West has undergone some important changes.

    The first image is of “Tech” conveyed in Gideon Kunda’s ethnographic studyEngineering Culture(1992), conducted in the 1980s. Everything about the firm exudes its brand and values, from the coffee cups and screensavers, to the prolonged teambuilding exercises and large Orwellian TV monitors in the foyer portraying a smiling image of the leader. When you arrive at Tech, you enter a culturally cleansed world, in which almost everything is designed to convince you that the ‘clan’...

  9. 5 “Free Work” Capitalism
    (pp. 103-123)

    In an advertisement aired on a digital music website popular in the United Kingdom, listeners were told that they too might contribute to the stylistic direction of the service. Only a few moments of their time would be required. This was an opportunity to influence the product that they and thousands of others had come to love, shaping and collectively managing its future on-line delivery.

    The advertisement concluded with the alluring phrase “Some might call it work . . . but we don’t.” The idea was clear. Listeners would lend their time to a for-profit enterprise without payment, but one...

  10. 6 How to Resist Work Today
    (pp. 124-144)

    So much worker militancy today is saddled with outdated notions about how we are to resist capitalism, especially as its idiom seeps into our dreams and desires. Oppositional strategies in the West still function as if the factory is the dominant template of corporate power. In doing so, it misses an important part of control in today’s workplaces and beyond. An example might suffice to illustrate this, one unfolding as I write. In the United Kingdom, the university is becoming a hotbed of political unrest, with neo-managerialism in full swing and employee protest organizations readying for industrial action.

    One of...

  11. Conclusion: Working after Neoliberalism
    (pp. 145-160)

    Clearly we are living in extreme times. When the conservative commentator Peter Hitchens was recently asked if there were alternatives to capitalism, he replied: “I have no idea. I guess there could be alternatives. Dead silence, starvation and the end of the world … it’s like asking if there is an alternative to the weather” (“Masters of Money” 2012).

    Statements that a few years ago would have been dismissed as dimwitted, like those of Hitchens, are now considered wise. There is no alternative to capitalism. Questioning its value is like questioning the forces of nature and even life itself. The...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 161-174)
  13. References
    (pp. 175-190)
  14. Index
    (pp. 191-206)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 207-207)