In the brave new world of the "flexible" corporation, Richard Sennett observes, workers at all levels are regarded as wholly disposable, and they have responded in kind, ceasing to think in terms of any long-term relationship with the organizations they work for. This, he argues, has tremendous negative consequences for workers' emotional and psychological well-being. Even in menial jobs, we extract much of our self-image from the idea of a "career"--a life narrative rendered intelligible by specific loyalties, which is to some degree self-invented but also in some respects predictable. Innovations like "flextime" and bureaucratic "de-layering" seem to promise more freedom to define one's career, but in fact they create jobs in which there's less freedom than ever to be had. The Corrosion of Character
is a short, anecdotal book, and while one might wish that it included a discussion of the social and psychological costs of the sheer increase of work time in the average worker's week, Sennett has created a pithy, disturbing picture of the cost of the corporate world's much-vaunted new efficiencies. --Richard Farr
From Publishers Weekly
The American company today ostensibly offers a more humane environment than in the era of "Fordism," when work on the assembly line had a deadening, routine character. However, Sennett, professor of sociology at New York University and the London School of Economics, believes this improvement is illusory. His argument is that the modern workplaceAwith its emphasis on short-term, episodic labor; projects and flexibilityAdoes not allow people to shape their experiences or build a coherent narrative of their lives. Most important, the new adaptability in business militates against the formation of character. Character depends on stability for virtues such as loyalty, trust, commitment and mutual helpfulness to develop. And rather than giving workers greater freedom, the flexibility model allows another kind of power to be imposed from the top: from 1980 to 1995, between 13 million and 39 million workers became unemployed owing to downsizing. Even flextime contributes to the fragmentation and disorder, and teamwork only emphasizes "mutual responsiveness rather than personal validation." Sennett makes his case in well-crafted prose with references not just to luminaries such as Adam Smith, Diderot, Nietzsche and Rousseau, but to the immediate experiences of blue-collar workers and folks in bakery shops and bars. He challenges the reader to decide whether the flexibility of modern capitalism offers a better context for personal growth or is merely a fresh form of oppression.
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