Life in Temporary and Scattered Work Practices
Edited by Torben Elgaard Jensen and Ann Westenholz
Chapter 6: Emerging identities beyond organizational boundaries
6. Emerging identities beyond organizational boundaries Ann Westenholz THE RESEARCH AGENDA In The Corrosion of Character, Richard Sennett (1998) argues that, as a consequence of the endless changes caused by the new ‘flexible capitalism’, individuals are increasingly losing their bearings and finding it difficult to orient themselves. A sense of meaninglessness is growing, and the individual’s character (loyalty and mutual commitment, pursuit of long-term goals and delayed gratification for the sake of a future end) is corroding as a consequence of the instability of, for instance, work relations in networks and teams. He further argues that social bonds and dependencies are sustaining ‘character’ (or in my terminology, ‘identity’). It is clear that Sennett thus disagrees with the way in which the management literature pays homage to the independence of the Free Agent and to the potentials of flexible business processes. He stresses that the outcome of flexible capitalism is not freedom but confusion, fear, and meaninglessness. The individual is no longer able to construct anticipatory stories about the future. It is no longer possible to evoke through speech a meaningful ‘we’ in the stories. Sennett’s analysis is interesting, not only because it has attracted so much attention in the social discourse, but also because his basic analysis refutes the image of ‘the atomic individual’ underlying the concept of the Free Agent. Instead he argues, as I do, for a social psychological understanding of the individual in which identities grow from relationships among individuals, relationships that also work to sustain and...
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