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.

Afterword: The tyranny of the epochal and work identity

Paul du Gay

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


Paul du Gay THE EPOCHAL As the contributions to this volume indicate, one of the most striking things about much contemporary theorizing about work and identity – whether critical or managerial in orientation – is the epochalist terms in which it is framed. By the term ‘epochalist’, we are referring to the use of a periodizing schema in which a logic of dichotomization establishes the available terms of debate in advance, either for or against. As Tom Osborne (1998, p. 17) has indicated with reference to contemporary social theories, epochal accounts are those which seek to encapsulate the Zeitgeist in some kind of overarching societal designation; that we live in a postmodern society, a modern society, an information society, a rationalised society, a risk society … Such epochal … theories tend to set up their co-ordinates in advance, leaving no ‘way out’ from their terms of reference. Whether the theorizing in question is being conducted by Zygmunt Bauman (2000 – ‘Liquid Modernity’), Scott Lash and John Urry (1994 – ‘Economies of Signs’), Manuel Castells (2000 – ‘The Network Society’), Tom Peters (1992 – ‘Chaos’ or ‘Crazy Times’) or Charles Leadbeater (1999 – ‘The Knowledge Driven Economy’), and whether the interpretation proffered is bitterly pessimistic or dizzyingly optimistic, the common denominator is an epochalist emphasis. Indeed, such is the standing of epochal analysis, not only within the social and management sciences, but also within the worlds of public policy and business strategy, that discussion of a given issue – ‘globalization’, ‘work’, ‘identity’ and so on – becomes almost invariably framed in ‘epochal’...

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