Identity in the Age of the New Economy

Identity in the Age of the New Economy

Life in Temporary and Scattered Work Practices

Edited by Torben Elgaard Jensen and Ann Westenholz

Identity in the Age of the New Economy is a multi-faceted view of contemporary employment and identity that questions a number of the myths related to the so-called new economy, knowledge society or network society. It argues that one of the most striking things about much contemporary theorizing on work and identity is the epochalist terms in which it is framed: changing forms of identity and subjectivity are assumed to be consequences of a shift to an entirely new economic, social and cultural era, signalled by concepts such as postmodernity, risk society, network society or new economy.

Chapter 2: Changing times, changing identities: a case study of British journalists

Gill Ursell

Subjects: business and management, organisation studies, social policy and sociology, sociology and sociological theory


Gill Ursell (We) are concerned less with advancing a simple historical narrative of changing ideas about the ‘person’ than with focusing upon the social relations, techniques, and forms of training and practice through which individuals have acquired definite capacities and attributes for social existence as particular ‘sorts’ of people. This … involves an historical understanding of the limited and specific forms of ‘personhood’ that individuals acquire in their passage through social institutions. (du Gay et al. 2000, p. 279) The analytical position indicated above encapsulates the approach to identity taken in this chapter, that is, social relational and empirically grounded. This distinguishes it from the essentially theoretical analyses of writers such as Rose (1998, 1999), Giddens (1990, 1991) and Beck (1992), who make assertions about individual identity formation in the context of their broader theorizations of a significantly changed social world, namely, the ‘post’ or ‘late’ or ‘second’ modern. These analyses are stimulating and valuable in their own right, but to test empirically the strength of their propositions about individuals qua individuals is to run the risk of an ethnographic methodology which renders social generalizations problematic. A further reason to prefer a social relational and grounded approach is the suspicion that the focus of much contemporary social theory on individualization is itself an element of the selfactualization discourse which it purports to be analysing. This suspicion seems also to inform Castells’s preference (1997) for a socially contextualized approach to identity. Castells defines identity as ‘people’s source of meaning and experience’ (1997,...

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