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A Company of One

A Company of One: Insecurity, Independence, and the New World of White-Collar Unemployment

Carrie M. Lane
Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 216
  • Book Info
    A Company of One
    Book Description:

    Being laid off can be a traumatic event. The unemployed worry about how they will pay their bills and find a new job. In the American economy's boom-and-bust business cycle since the 1980s, repeated layoffs have become part of working life. In A Company of One, Carrie M. Lane finds that the new culture of corporate employment, changes to the job search process, and dual-income marriage have reshaped how today's skilled workers view unemployment. Through interviews with seventy-five unemployed and underemployed high-tech white-collar workers in the Dallas area over the course of the 2000s, Lane shows that they have embraced a new definition of employment in which all jobs are temporary and all workers are, or should be, independent "companies of one."

    Following the experiences of individual jobseekers over time, Lane explores the central role that organized networking events, working spouses, and neoliberal ideology play in forging and reinforcing a new individualist, pro-market response to the increasingly insecure nature of contemporary employment. She also explores how this new perspective is transforming traditional ideas about masculinity and the role of men as breadwinners. Sympathetic to the benefits that this "company of one" ideology can hold for its adherents, Lane also details how it hides the true costs of an insecure workforce and makes collective and political responses to job loss and downward mobility unlikely.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6079-1
    Subjects: Management & Organizational Behavior

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xviii)
  5. Introduction: Fortitude, Faith, and the Free Market
    (pp. 1-14)

    Although he worked nearly every night for a year waiting tables at a steakhouse in a suburb north of Dallas, Alex Brodsky¹ never thought of himself as a waiter. Instead, he says:

    I knew with absolute certainty that if somebody were to take a snapshot of this I could look at this and say, “This is not my life.” Because I knew that while for a living I was waiting tables, I was not a waiter.

    When I first met Alex in the fall of 2001, he had been out of work for six months following his layoff from an...

  6. 1 Silicon Prairie
    (pp. 15-31)

    In January 1985, four hundred influential Dallasites gathered by invitation only to celebrate the opening of Infomart, a $97 million experiment in high-technology marketing. Following hors d’oeuvres of seasoned salmon in a brioche shell, caviar-topped potato slices, and mini leek and herb quiches, guests enjoyed a chilled chanterelle terrine with squid and pheasant mousse in a walnut and chives vinaigrette. The second course ushered in cream of artichoke hearts and lobster soup, followed by a palate-cleansing grapefruit sorbet. The veal entrée was followed by a winter salad of watercress, Belgian endive, and tomatoes, flavored with a simple vinaigrette of olive...

  7. 2 A Company of One
    (pp. 32-61)

    Enrique Vivar knew his chances of being let go in the company’s next round of layoffs were high. The projects he had been working on of late were, in his own words, “not horribly essential” to his team’s bottom line. Still, said Enrique, a midlevel engineer and project manager, he continued to work hard, staying late and taking on additional responsibilities when asked. He averaged about fifty hours a week in the office, in addition to pursuing his Executive MBA on nights and weekends. He considered this a respectable work week, but knew his manager disagreed:

    [My manager] said, “You...

  8. 3 The Hardest Job You’ll Ever Have
    (pp. 62-78)

    Keith Hartmann, forty-four, specializes in helping U.S. technology companies expand into the Japanese market, and he believes he was born to do the work he does.

    You know, my whole purpose in life is to work between the United States and Japan. . . . I’m half Japanese, and growing up, my father was in the military and my parents did not understand each other very well. My father did not understand Japan. He was with the generation of Americans that thought that Japan was a third-world country, so Japan was never talked about in positive terms. There were a...

  9. 4 Rituals of Unemployment
    (pp. 79-102)

    Tech workers often described their evolving approach to job searching as a progression out of the darkness and into the light. After months holed up at home, searching online all hours of the day and night, rarely venturing away from the muted glow of the computer screen, most job seekers made a conscious decision to try something else. At the urging of friends, colleagues, and job search professionals, they stopped web surfing and started networking, moving out of the house and into the light of day.

    The term networking encompasses a wide range of activities. The first, in the more...

  10. 5 Man Enough to Let My Wife Support Me
    (pp. 103-130)

    In discussing the challenges job seekers face, I have thus far focused primarily on emotional and professional hardships, but jobless tech workers also face very real material challenges.¹ Few of the job seekers I met were in danger of losing their homes or being unable to feed or clothe their families, but most had to dramatically alter their former lifestyle. Enrique Vivar and his wife, Anna, for instance, starting scaling back the day he lost his job.

    The day that I was laid off I was like, okay, what can I cut? What costs can I chop? And it was...

  11. Epilogue
    (pp. 131-164)

    By the spring of 2010, unemployment was everywhere. More than fifteen million Americans were actively looking for work, and the national unemployment rate hovered just below 10 percent; Up in the Air, a movie featuring cameo performances by actual jobless Americans, had been nominated for Best Picture; a bevy of new books about happiness were citing the finding that job loss has a more significant and prolonged negative effect on happiness than even divorce or the death of a loved one.¹ Occasional suggestions that recovery lay just around the corner were tempered by comments such as those of one economist,...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 165-174)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 175-188)
  14. Index
    (pp. 189-194)